Should Medical Malpractice Be Overhauled?

Tort reform has diminished the availability of medical malpractice lawsuits in many states, leaving the option a viable one for fewer patients with an injury they suspect was caused by poor medical treatment. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands suffer an injury during their medical care every year in the United States. As a result, we expect there will be increasing debate over whether an alternative to the present system is warranted.

ProPublica is publishing a detailed series of articles on patient safety in the U.S. health care system and the second examined whether the current medical malpractice system should be replaced with a system like that used in Denmark. It makes a persuasive case for considering alternative systems.

In Denmark, patients submit claims and medical professionals review the medical records. This system helps improve care by providing additional information and scrutiny of mistakes in medical care and distributing compensation at a fraction of the administrative cost and expenses of the current system to U.S. doctors and hospitals.

It reminds me a bit of the system to compensate individuals injured by vaccines here in the United States. According to the article, there are also a few states which have adopted alternatives to medical malpractice lawsuits, such as Virginia where they compensate for severe neurological injuries during child birth.

These systems are contrasted against most in the United States, where medical malpractice attorneys like ourselves are forced to decline many potential clients because of the increasing cost to litigate such claims and tort reform.

The shift to an alternate system would not be without precedent. The workers’ compensation system has been removed from the normal litigation process in courts here in Pennsylvania and replaced with a system of workers’ comp insurance and claims.

The importance of getting the system right is increasing as tort reform decreases the number of people who can be helped through lawsuits and more patients and families are left unsatisfied by their care. Medical injury is the third-leading cause of death in America, according to a recent study on preventable harm in hospitals. The study placed the number of deaths at between 210,000 and 440,000 patients, which would put it on the list behind only heart disease and cancer.

In the first article of the series, ProPublica solicited detailed questionnaire answers concerning the stories of more than 1,000 people injured during medical care. The results revealed some interesting facts, such as that there was a disclosure that harm occurred in only 1 out of 5 surveys. Only one in eight survey respondents received an apology for a mistake or injury, even though two-thirds of states have laws granting legal immunity for apologies, according to the article.