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Myths of medical malpractice reform claims exposed by studies

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Malpractice caps do not to lead to better hospital practices, study says

More than half the states in the country currently have some form of medical malpractice reform laws in place, usually limiting the amount victims of medical errors can be compensated or making it more difficult for injured patients to sue medical staff. These laws were introduced over the past three decades because advocates of such tort reform laws claimed that high medical malpractice payouts were resulting in an inefficient health care system. Now, according to the New York Observer, many of the claims made by those reformers are being proven as unfounded. Furthermore, the caps may actually be an impediment to improving the safety of health care services, as a look into the history of anesthesia errors suggests.

Tort reform ineffective

The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation, looked at three states, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas, that had passed legislation that made it almost impossible to sue emergency room medical personnel. Advocates for the legislation had argued that the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits was causing doctors to order unnecessary diagnostic tests, thus increasing the overall cost and inefficiency of the health care system.

The study looked at 1,100 hospital emergency departments in all three states from 1997 to 2011. According to Forbes, researchers found that doctors who were protected from lawsuits by tort reform legislation ordered just as many diagnostic tests, such as CT and MRI scans, as doctors did who were not protected by such legislation.

Legal action incites change

The study concluded that the cost-savings and improved health care efficiency promised by advocates of tort reform have not materialized. In fact, critics of tort reform laws, such as medical malpractice caps, say that such legislation leads to slower progress being made in improving health care safety.

The New York Observer points out, for example, that high incidents of errors in anesthesiology in the 1980s were leading to multiple lawsuits being filed against anesthesiologists. The threat of being sued finally led the profession to institute much needed reforms, such as limited work hours, mandatory monitoring, and improved training. Those reforms led to a massive decrease in anesthesiology-related deaths, from 1 in 6,000 to 1 in 200,000 in just a ten-year period. Critics of medical malpractice caps and similar tort reforms worry that without the threat of litigation, doctors will fail to continue making efforts to ensure hospitals and clinics are safer.

Medical malpractice

Preventable patient injuries at hospitals are disturbingly common and show that much work needs to be done to ensure patients are protected. Anybody who has been injured because of the potential negligence of a doctor, medical professional, or health care facility should get in touch with a medical malpractice attorney today. A qualified and dedicated attorney can discuss what legal options may be available to patients and whether compensation can be sought for the pain, suffering, and added expense they have endured.

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