Medical malpractice payouts by doctors account for only a fraction of the nation's healthcare expenditures, according to a recent study by a group of researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Using the National Practitioner Data Bank, a government database that lists all paid medical malpractice claims, the Hopkins' researchers looked at all awards over $1 million, so-called "catastrophic" payouts by U.S. doctors, between 2004 and 2010.
Their findings, published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, showed that catastrophic payouts tended to attract the most attention from the public, media and tort reform advocates, but that they accounted for an insignificant percentage of healthcare expenditures. The high payouts added up to roughly $1.4 billion a year, or .05 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures, the study found. (Note: .05 means 1/20th of 1%)
Critics suggest that far too many tests and procedures are being performed in the name of defensive medicine, as physicians fear they could be sued if they don't order them. But, don't we prefer "safety" rather than "sorry"? Don't we want doctors ordering tests, as a precautionary measure, just in case their initial impressions are wrong? In this day and age, "oops" and "I'm sorry I made that diagnostic mistake" seem so unnecessary.
Instead of trying to impose medical malpractice caps which have only a "minimal impact" on overall healthcare expenditures, tort reform efforts should focus on defining the so-called "standard of care" that doctors are measured against in medical malpractice cases. That standard should focus less on what is the practice of the average doctor and rather on what is reasonable.
Tort reform efforts generally have not focused on the doctor's standard of care, said Robinette. Some states, such as Georgia, have passed legislation requiring plaintiffs in malpractice cases against emergency room physicians to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that the doctor was grossly negligent. This is nearly an impossible standard for an injured victim. With this standard, the insurance companies win. Big time!
Under most states laws, doctors can now tell a patient "I'm sorry" and then later deny it. Most injured victims seek fairness, not the lottery. Lets remain safe. "I'm sorry does not and can never right the wrong."