Protect Patients Now

Volume 7, Issue 5 May 2012 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Physicians, Patients Face Long Road in Liability Lawsuits
Without Reforms, Michigan Faces Physician Shortages
Patients Benefit from Texas Tort Reform

Physicians, Patients Face Long Road in Liability Lawsuits

A new study in this month’s Archives of Internal Medicine details just how long medical liability claims take to resolve – even when cases are dropped or dismissed.

Lead researcher Dr. Anupam B. Jena looked at more than 10,000 liability claims against physicians that closed between 2002 and 2005. Only about 55 percent of all claims filed resulted in an actual lawsuit, and more than half of those lawsuits were dismissed by the courts. Many more were settled far before a verdict was reached. Only five percent of the cases ended up being decided by a jury.

Dr. Jena’s study reported that of the small number of cases that resulted in a trial verdict, the verdict was in favor of the physician 80 percent of the time. However, the length of time that physicians and patients were consumed by the lawsuits was troubling.

On average, cases dismissed by the court took 20 months to make their way through the court system. Those settled before a verdict was issued still took more than 28 months.

Cases that went through trial and reached a verdict lasted several years – 39 months on average when eventually decided in favor of the doctor, and nearly 44 months when the patient won.

Long, drawn out lawsuits and trials are hurting both physicians and deserving patients. “It is hard on everyone,” Dr. Jena said.

To read more about the facts behind the increasing length of time behind resolving medical liability cases, click here.

Without Reforms, Michigan Faces Physician Shortages

Personal injury lawyers in Michigan have exploited the states’ medical liability laws, and an editorial in the Detroit News this month urges lawmakers to close the loopholes that are leading to a critical physician shortage throughout the state.

Senator Roger Kahn, a lawmaker and cardiologist, is the sponsor of legislation that would more firmly establish the limitations on non-economic damages that were intended by earlier medical liability reforms that were once effective – but have now been eroded away by legal maneuvering.

The bill makes a more clear distinction between economic and non-economic damages, and maintains full payment for medical expenses and lost wages in medical liability cases.

By clarifying the reasonable limits on non-economic damages and doing away with loopholes for personal injury lawyers, Michigan could move forward towards closing the gap of expected physician shortages.

According to the editorial, studies suggest the state will have a shortage of more than 4,500 physicians in fields such as pediatrics and internal medicine by 2020.

Almost two-thirds of the state’s doctors told the Michigan State Medical Society in 2010 that their practices were full and they can’t take more patients, up from 42 percent five years earlier.

To read the full editorial regarding how Michigan patients would benefit from updated medical liability reforms and greater access to medical care, click here.

Patients Benefit from Texas Tort Reform

There’s further evidence that other states would benefit by replicating Texas-style tort reform, and a study released during Digestive Disease Week earlier this month gives an update on access to care for patients in the Lone Star State.

Dr. Ronald Stewart, professor and chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, presented a study that showed a 21 percent increase in population between 2002 and 2012, and a 44 percent increase in physicians practicing in the state during the same time period.

Rural areas, where shortages had been most critical, fared the best – with patients seeing a net increase of 115 physicians in areas outside cities and suburbs.

Additionally, the cost savings from liability reform is directly passed down to patients, according to a hospital survey cited in Dr. Stewart’s study.

The survey of hospital administrators asked how they used the funds saved from their reduced liability coverage costs:

  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported using the funds to expand patient safety programs;
  • Fifty-one percent used the funds to maintain/expand coverage or services for uninsured/underinsured patients;
  • Forty-size percent used the funds to subsidize various payment shortfalls such as Medicaid.

“We know that tort reform is beneficial to the physician and hospital, but these data support the notion that it really is better for the patient, too,” Dr. Stewart concluded.

Even the benefits of medical liability reform are bigger in Texas. Click here to read additional coverage of Dr. Stewart’s study and an update on the state’s reforms after passage nearly a decade ago.

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