Category Archives: News

Majority of physicians believe concerns over malpractice lawsuits result in “defensive medicine”

A survey by Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers has found that 91 percent of physicians believe concerns over malpractice lawsuits result in “defensive medicine,” ordering more tests and procedures than necessary as a protective measure. The study, which questioned 2,416 physicians, is published in the June 28 edition of Archives of Internal Medicine. A majority of physicians, 90.7 percent, also believe that better protections against unwarranted malpractice suits are needed in order to decrease the ordering of unnecessary medical tests. “About $60 billion is spent annually on defensive medicine and many physicians feel they are vulnerable to malpractice lawsuits even when they practice competently within the standard of care,” said Tara Bishop, MD, Associate, General Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and co-author of the study. “The study shows that an overwhelming majority of physicians support tort reform to decrease malpractice lawsuits and that unnecessary testing, a contributor to rising health care costs, will not decrease without it” Dr. Bishop, Salomeh Keyhani, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Health Evidence and Policy, and Alex Federman, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, General Internal Medicine, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, conducted the national survey of physicians from a variety of practice…

Read More

Continue health reform

News that the Norwich OB/GYN Group is closing is evidence that the job of reforming the health care system is not over. The closing will be a hardship for the 5,000 patients who now have to seek care elsewhere. It creates a potential shortage in obstetric and gynecological care. This is on top of growing concerns about a shortage of primary care physicians. While problems specific to the practice, among them legal troubles, contributed to its financial difficulties and the closing, many local doctors can commiserate with its troubles. Malpractice insurance rates had reached $130,000 per year, per doctor, according to owner Dr. H. John Bodin. And insufficient and slow arriving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements created money-flow problems. To control rising health care costs, the cost of malpractice insurance has to be trimmed, and that means tort reform. In addition, fear of excessive malpractice judgments drives doctors to order needless tests. While this newspaper supported the health care reform legislation, it was critical of the failure to include serious tort reform. In November, Republicans are likely to gain seats in the Senate and House. They should use that muscle to add tort reform to the health care reform package, a…

Read More

State’s tort climate gets high ranking

Some good news about Wisconsin’s business climate courtesy of a California-based free market think tank. When it comes to the burden imposed by personal injury lawsuits and related litigation, Wisconsin fares well in the latest rankings by the Pacific Research Institute, where Lawrence McQuillan is director of business and economic studies. “It matters, because the tort climate is an important factor in the overall business climate of a state,” said McQuillan Paul Gagliardi with the trial lawyers group Wisconsin Association for Justice said the state has never been known for frivolous litigation. “You’re ill advised if you file cases that are without merit,” said Gagliardi. “This a pretty upfront state, we leave the door open to the courthouse, which you should do. But if you abuse that priviledge there are significant consequences.” PRI ranked Wisconsin ninth in the “tort threat.” McQuillan said the state has good caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits, although Gagliardi points out that such punitive damages are not allowed at all in Wisconsin. One note of caution from McQuillan – the legislature has not addressed tort reform in recent years, which could allow the state’s rankings to slip. “You haven’t done a whole lot…

Read More

Medical liability: A world of difference

As states and health care systems seek federal grants to test new ways of tackling medical liability issues in the U.S., some observers suggest looking beyond America’s borders for inspiration. While they agree no one system offers a perfect solution, experts say other countries could offer lessons to help mend what doctors say are flaws that make the U.S. medical liability landscape more expensive and litigious than that of other nations. “Nobody is as hospitable to potential liability as we are in this country,” said Richard A. Epstein, director of the law and economics program at the University of Chicago Law School. “The unmistakable drift is we do much more liability than anybody else, and the evidence on improved care is vanishingly thin.” U.S. litigation costs overall are at least twice those in other developed countries, such as Canada and much of Europe, according to a 2008 study by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy. Experts have estimated U.S. medical liability claims to be roughly 10% of all tort litigation, with at least half of related expenses going to legal costs rather than compensating patients. It’s important to recognize that foreign legal schemes differ significantly from those in the…

Read More

Guest Blogger: Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) on Obamacare’s Impact on Doctors

As the health care reform debate began over a year ago, the American Medical Association, the top doctors group in the country, released a list of its top priorities for health reform. The AMA is a powerful association, and many have credited it with helping to kill HillaryCare, so the organization, of which I am a member, was in a good position to impact President Obama’s health care reform plan and accomplish some of doctors’ long-awaited goals. Remember, without doctors, there is no health care, so it is important that health reform address the issues that are important to doctors and will help them keep their doors open and better serve America’s patients. Two of the AMA’s top priorities are also two of the main reasons I decided to run for Congress almost 10 years ago – repealing the flawed Medicare physician payment formula, and nationwide medical liability reform. Unfortunately for doctors, Democrats in Washington, who have had control of Congress for over 3 years, have shown absolutely no signs of seriously addressing either of these issues. But with the AMA’s clout, I was hopeful that this time, with comprehensive health care reform a major goal for President Obama, these…

Read More

Litigation Fears Impact Physician Work Hours

A new study published in the Journal of Law and Economics (2009;54:635-663) has revealed that physicians work fewer hours when their risk of litigation increases. Researchers Eric Helland, of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and Mark H. Showalter, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, found that physicians work an average of 1.7 hours less per week when their expected medical liability risk rises by just 10%. The researchers calculated that a reduction of 1.7 hours per week is the same as “one in 35 physicians leaving a workforce entirely, or about 21,000 physicians.” The study was conducted using data about medical liability risk in each state gathered from insurers. Data was broken down by specialty, and physicians were surveyed about workload and income. The study also found that older physicians (aged 55 years and older), and those with their own practice were more likely to be affected by increased liability risk. Just as the increase in medical liability risk resulted in decreased physician hours, the opposite was true as well. Results indicated that when liability risk decreased, for example when tort reforms such as caps on damages were enacted, physicians saw more patients per week.

Read More

Tenn. Doctors Continue Pursuit of Malpractice Caps

Tennessee doctors pushed for Congress to put caps on malpractice awards, but the health care reform bill signed into law this week by President Obama sets no such limits. Now, the Tennessee Medical Association is pinning its hopes on the next General Assembly. The organization will question legislative candidates about malpractice caps, then post their stances on its Web site. “It’s important as we go to the polls in November that if you are concerned about this that you find out what your candidate’s position is on medical liability reform,” said Dr. Michael Minch, president-elect of the TMA. Tennessee is losing doctors – especially those who practice high-risk specialties – to states that have enacted malpractice caps, he said. The TMA just released a survey of 120 state doctors. The survey, conducted during December and January, gauged the climate for practicing medicine in Tennessee since the passage of a 2008 state malpractice law. That law reduced the number of “frivolous lawsuits,” said Minch, but it did not enact caps on non-economic damages. Ninety-six percent of survey responders said defensive medicine costs remained a serious problem, while 87 percent said future physician supply was also a serious problem. “Even though 60…

Read More

Ga. court upholds key medical malpractice changes

A sharply divided Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld a key part of a sweeping 2005 law that made it more difficult for patients to win medical malpractice cases involving emergency health care providers. The court’s 4-3 ruling was a blow to plaintiff’s attorneys and other critics of the legislation who argued the higher standard of proof required by the law made it almost impossible for patients injured by emergency room workers to win malpractice claims. Critics of the law took another hit Monday when the court released a separate ruling, this one by a 5-2 vote, that upheld a provision that allowed one side in a lawsuit to pay the other side’s legal fees in some cases. They had argued the practice could discourage many victims from bringing legitimate claims to court. The court will likely issue a third ruling this month on a lawsuit that challenges the law’s $350,000 limit on jury awards for malpractice victims’ pain and suffering damages. The lawsuit involving the emergency room provision was brought by Carol Gliemmo, who said an emergency room doctor at a Columbus hospital failed to detect a debilitating illness in April 2007 when she came in complaining of sudden…

Read More

Ga. court upholds key medical malpractice changes

A sharply divided Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld a key part of a sweeping 2005 law that made it more difficult for patients to win medical malpractice cases involving emergency health care providers. The court’s 4-3 ruling was a blow to plaintiff’s attorneys and other critics of the legislation who argued the higher standard of proof required by the law made it almost impossible for patients injured by emergency room workers to win malpractice claims. Critics of the law took another hit Monday when the court released a separate ruling, this one by a 5-2 vote, that upheld a provision that allowed one side in a lawsuit to pay the other side’s legal fees in some cases. They had argued the practice could discourage many victims from bringing legitimate claims to court. The court will likely issue a third ruling this month on a lawsuit that challenges the law’s $350,000 limit on jury awards for malpractice victims’ pain and suffering damages. The lawsuit involving the emergency room provision was brought by Carol Gliemmo, who said an emergency room doctor at a Columbus hospital failed to detect a debilitating illness in April 2007 when she came in complaining of sudden…

Read More

Missed Opportunities for Malpractice Reform

Last September, I wrote a column suggesting that a compromise on medical liability reform could be the path to a truly bipartisan healthcare reform package. I still believe it’s true, but it will require a serious acknowledgment of the problem from Democrats. And from Republicans, it will take a willingness to look for solutions beyond damage caps, which are one of the most ineffective ways of reforming malpractice. To really bring down medical liability premiums while ensuring patient safety and fair compensation for patients who genuinely deserve it, we need to be more innovative than our politics has recently allowed. We need special health courts; we need medical screening panels; we need apology statutes; and we need a combination of different reform approaches. But first, we need to set aside politics and have an honest and productive discussion about the true nature of the problem and its solutions.

Read More