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Protect Patients Now

Volume 3, Issue 1 JANUARY 2008 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

A “Silent Crisis” for Maryland Patients

A new study on the shortage of physicians in Maryland warns of a “silent crisis” that will become increasingly acute without reform of the state’s medical liability laws among other measures.

The Maryland Physician Workforce Study, which was commissioned by the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) with support of MedChi, found the state has 16% fewer physicians in clinical practice than the national average, based on population. The shortage is particularly severe in medical specialties, including emergency medicine, anesthesiology, hematology/oncology, thoracic and vascular surgery, psychiatry and dermatology, but the shortage also extends to primary care. Rural areas of the state are hardest hit, but all regions are having trouble finding specialists to cover their ER’s.

The report warns that the access to care crisis will continue to deepen as the population ages and medical residents choose more patient-friendly states in which to settle and practice. As Maryland physician and DMLR spokesman, Dr. Scott Maizel, writes in the Baltimore Sun, the number of newly minted doctors deciding to stay in Maryland has dwindled an astounding 50% in the last 5 years (with only 3 new general surgeons staying each year) and the report sees that number dropping another 50% by 2015.

You can read Dr. Maizel’s op-ed in the Baltimore Sun here and access an executive summary of the MHA report here.

For Patients, A Dangerous Precedent

A split ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court could open up a whole new area for medical lawsuit abuse — massively expanding the number of medical liability lawsuits, raising the cost of medical treatments and seriously undermining patients access to quality medical care.

Without ruling on the validity of the claims in question, the court reinstated a suit against a doctor who was treating a 75-year-old cancer patient with chemotherapy. The suit contends that the doctor is responsible for the fact that the patient’s car struck and killed a pedestrian, because of the medicines the doctor had prescribed for high blood pressure.

In a biting dissent from her colleagues, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall criticized the “sweeping” nature of the ruling and said it would mean that “The physician would be forever looking over his shoulder.” An editorial in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette sums it up nicely: “Making doctors legally liable…for an extended chain of events over which they have no control, will certainly change the way physicians treat their patients, and certainly not for the better. Helpful medicines that might have side effects may not be prescribed. Costly tests may be ordered not because they are needed but to provide legal cover for the physician in case of a lawsuit.”

Not surprisingly, the court is seriously out-of-sync with Massachusetts’s residents, who have to live with the consequences of such harebrained decisions. According to a new poll conducted by the McCormack School at the University of Massachusetts/Boston, 83% think medical liability insurance is either a major problem or a crisis; 74% favor limits on the amount patients can be awarded for non-economic damages, and 68% think that physicians are leaving the state because of the declining work environment for doctors is a serious problem.

If they think it’s bad now, wait until Massachusetts’s doctors are held legally liable for every action of their patients who are undergoing treatment. It’s a field day for personal injury lawyers, and a sad day for patients.

To read the complete article, click here.

Personal Injury Lawyers Uncork the Champagne

Personal injury lawyers chalked up a couple of other victories last month as well. In Oregon, the Supreme Court ruled against the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), effectively busting open the state’s liability cap of $200,000 on state agencies. OHSU estimates that the ruling will add some $30 million in insurance and administrative costs, soaking up a full two-thirds of it’s financing from the state’s general fund, and forcing the university to cut up to 300 jobs, raise tuition up to 25 percent, and close clinical, research and education programs. Read the full story.

In New Jersey, the legislature passed a bill allowing families to sue for emotional harm in “wrongful death” cases, a measure that many fear will drive OB/GYNs – who are often the targets of such suits – out of state. Read the full story.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting in the Georgia General Assembly to effectively dismantle legislation that protects ER physicians in order to make it easier to sue them. “Ask any hospital how difficult it is to get physician coverage for emergency rooms,” said Kevin Bloye or the Georgia hospital Association. The proposed legislation is a “slippery slope,” he said, and some believe it may well plunge the state back into the kind of crisis it was experiencing in ER care before the protective legislation was passed. Read the full story.

Doctors Fight Back

On the good news front, we can report that doctors in New York have decided to fight back by airing 60-second televised messages in the waiting rooms explaining to patients how medical lawsuit abuse affects the quality and availability of critical medical care. More than 100 offices in New York City are now showing the public service spots, even as the state’s liability situation continues to deteriorate. This summer, the New York State Insurance Department increased medical liability insurance costs by 14%, the largest annual rise in almost 15 years, and relief from Governor Spitzer’s task force appears as far away as ever.

“I don’t think [the televised spots are] going to keep anyone from suing,” says Dr. Margaret Lewin of Manhattan, but I think the pubic has to know where the health care dollars are going…so if they can join us in making some changes, that would be terrific.”

To read the full story, click here.

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