Medical Malpractice and Health Care

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Medical Negligence:
The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights

February 2011

Medical Negligence: The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights

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Table of Contents

Executive Summary The Problem
Preventable Medical Errors Investing in Patient Safety

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The Patients
Medical Negligence Lawsuits Few and Far Between The Search for Accountability

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The Physicians
Doctors Not Fleeing the Profession Physicians and Premiums Stable Claims but Rising Premiums Practice Expenses and Income

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Costs
Medical Negligence a Tiny Percentage of Health Care Costs Industry Profits Defensive Medicine Reform Proposals

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Why We Need the Civil Justice System
Injured Patients Overlooked Civil Justice and Patient Safety More Tort Reform Equals Worse Health Care Weeding Out Dangerous Doctors

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Conclusion Appendix - Patient Safety Initiatives Endnotes

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Medical Negligence: The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights

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Executive Summary
The Health Care Debate
The reform of the country’s health care system remains a controversial debate for Congress and the administration. Much of this discussion focuses on the cost of health care and the driving factors behind it. In that context, some have demanded restrictions on patients’ rights to hold negligent healthcare providers accountable, but have refused to pay attention to reducing and eliminating preventable medical errors. A large body of research now indicates that many of the common perceptions about medical negligence are little more than myths. This report analyzes the most recent empirical work on medical negligence to better understand the challenges facing the health care system.

Preventable Medical Errors – The Sixth Biggest Killer in America According to the Institute of Medicine, preventable medical errors kill as many as 98,000 Americans everyyear, and injure countless more. If the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were to include preventable medical errors as a category, it would be the sixth leading cause of death in America. Yet despite this, much of the medical negligence policy debate has revolved around indirect factors, such as doctors’ insurance premiums. Any discussion of medical negligence that does not involve preventable medical errors ignores the fundamental problem. Preventing medical errors will dramatically lower health care costs, reduce doctors’ insurance premiums, and protect the health and well-being of patients.

An Epidemic of Negligence, Not Lawsuits
Despite the shocking number of medical errors, few injured patients ever file a medical negligence lawsuit, and fewer still file frivolous claims. Research shows almost all medical negligence claims are meritorious. Claims where there was no error are rarely paid and researchers have concluded the reverse – errors which are never compensated – is a far bigger problem. The reality is, as University of Pennsylvania law professor Tom Baker puts it, “We have an epidemic of medical malpractice, not of malpractice lawsuits.”

Patients Want Accountability
Far from looking for a jackpot, research shows that patients file claims because they are seeking accountability. Too often patients injured by preventable medical errors are left in the dark about what happened to them. The majority of patients who experience medical errors are not told by their doctor. Nearly one half of the nation’s doctors admit to not reporting incompetence or medical errors. On the other hand, hospitals and health systems that have embraced full disclosure of medical errors to patients have found the number of medical negligence claims and their related costs decline.

Better Patient Safety is Key to Lower Health Care Costs
The rising cost of health care just intensifies the need to focus on preventable medical errors and their huge associated costs. The savings from preventing medical...
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