Medical malpractice system heading for a change

Medical malpractice laws and the system are perceived to be severely flawed. Many patients with legitimate claims never see a dollar of what they are owed, and many doctors who've done nothing wrong are sometimes found liable for enormous settlements. now efforts are being made to correct the situation both for patients and doctors.

Patients are looking for honest, prompt and compassionate communication from physicians about mistakes, studies find. They are nearly unanimous in their desire to be told about errors, particularly those that cause them harm. They want doctors to explain how and why an error happened and to walk them through what will happen next. Most also want a proper apology. However doctors are unwilling to inform patients. Fear of litigation is one reason that doctors withhold this type of information. Larry Smarr, president of the Physician Insurers Assn. of America, a trade group of medical malpractice insurance companies said, “Liability stands as a barrier to full and complete communication.” Apart from this the doctors also worry about losing their patients’ trust, damaging their reputation and undermining their own self-confidence.

Gov. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are at loggerheads over this. Cuomo is backing a plan to limit injury and suffering awards to $250,000 as part of a broad effort to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program - saving as much as $209 million next year. Silver, who works with one of Manhattan’s largest personal-injury firms, has repeatedly helped block tort reform in the state.

Steve Keene, general counsel to the N.C. Medical Society, the state’s physicians group said, “There are some problems with medical liability litigation that have not been addressed and have not been resolved...The costs of defensive medicine are very significant. Everybody has to pay for that.”

Current law allows unlimited compensatory damages and punitive damages limited to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater. This bill makes a distinction between economic damages, such as lost wages and medical care, and “non-economic damages,” such as pain and suffering, physical and mental impairment and disfigurement. It would limit recovery of non-economic compensatory damages to $500,000 for each defendant. The bill originally capped it at $250,000 per plaintiff. This would hurt non-wage earners like children, older people and homemakers because they cannot claim damages for lost wages. This law would also protect emergency-room physicians unless their actions constitute “gross negligence, wanton conduct, or intentional wrongdoing.”

Samuel Thompson, a Raleigh lawyer who defends doctors, on Thursday presented the other side of the coin to the House Select Committee on Tort Reform. He said some specialists will avoid emergency-room work, and that will deprive people of health care. “Doctors are terrified of getting sued,” he said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Razia Razia United States says:

    I think what patients want is a relationship with their doctor. It seems that the relationship between the physician and patient has dwindled. The sorry works idea I think drives at the heart of the relationship. I see this all the time with medical malpractice insurance. Emergency rooms have had a high amount of claims over the past several decades. A lot of people attribute this to the fact that no relationship is created between the patient and doctor. The public has an easier time filing a claim against someone they don't know. There is no question that defensive medicine is driving up the cost of health care. I think that creating a long lasting relationship with the patient could be the best risk management tool of all. What do you think? h

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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