Congress of Neurological Surgeons examines need for liability reform

The latest issue of Congress Quarterly, the newsmagazine of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS), focuses entirely on the intersection of medicine and law, examining the risks of inaction on liability reform for its physician members.

The edition covers topics including expert witness testimony, perspectives from plaintiff’s attorneys, and lessons learned from those who have been faced with a medical liability lawsuit.

Katie Orrico, senior vice president of Health Policy and Advocacy for the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and CNS and co-chair of the Health Coalition on Liability and Access, highlighted the collaboration between both groups in an article that gave an overview of the important advocacy work happening in Washington, D.C.

Orrico highlights the uneven impact that our nation’s broken liability system has on neurosurgeons, as 20 percent of all practicing neurosurgeons in the United States face medical malpractice litigation each year, and the specialty’s average payout of $439,146 reaches the highest of all medical specialties.

To counter this reality, the AANS/CNS noted progress on a number of fronts:

  • Last year, Reps. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) introduced the Accessible Care by Curbing Excessive lawSuitS (ACCESS) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives — comprehensive reform legislation that would encourage speedy resolution of claims, place reasonable limits on non-economic damages, and maximize patient recovery, among other patient-friendly provisions.
  • The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act — sponsored by Reps. Raul Ruiz, MD, (D-Calif.) and Larry Bucshon, MD, (R-Ind.) in the House, and Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Bill Cassidy, MD, (R-La.) in the Senate — was introduced in the 117th Congress and would protect volunteer health professionals from unwarranted lawsuits, as a patchwork of state laws increases the threat of liability lawsuits.
  • Enactment of the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act, which extends liability insurance coverage of a state-licensed medical professional when the professional provides medical services to an athlete, athletic team or team staff member in another state.

“The above reforms will ensure full and unlimited recovery of economic damages for deserving patients for expenses,” the article highlighted. “They will help ensure a faster resolution of claims and that patients — not attorneys — receive the bulk of any damage awards.”

To access the entirety of Congress Quarterly and read more about how the AANS and CNS are actively leading liability reform efforts, click here.

Troubling trends show prevalence of medical lawsuit abuse

A recent study by the American Medical Association (AMA) sheds light on a concerning trend within the health care system that shows how physician age, practice specialty and gender impact the likelihood of a lawsuit.

The study reveals that approximately one in three physicians have faced lawsuits at some point during their careers and that it is only a matter of time before a physician is sued.

“Even the most highly qualified and competent physicians in the U.S. may face a medical liability claim in their careers, however, getting sued is not indicative of medical errors,” said AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD

It often depends on a physician’s age, specialty, or gender.

Older physicians are more likely to be sued during their careers due to the extended duration of their practice and the increased complexity of medical procedures they have encountered. When the threat of lawsuits causes experienced physicians to stop practicing medicine, patients pay the price with limited access to specialized care.

Additionally, male physicians are more likely to be sued than their female counterparts, with women experiencing 42 claims per 100 physicians, compared to 75 per 100 physicians for men.  

While these disparities highlight the risks various physician populations face, they are often not connected to actual medical negligence.

“When physicians are sued, two-thirds of civil liability claims are dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn without a finding of fault,” said Dr. Resneck. “When claims proceed to trial and are decided by a verdict, the defendants prevail in nearly 9 out 10 cases.”

To read more about the disproportionate impact of lawsuits within the health care system, click here.

Same crisis, different decade

Pennsylvania patients are facing the same insurance and access to care crisis first witnessed over two decades ago, as the recent decision to allow lawsuit venue shopping has again created hubs where high payouts are common.

Writing an opinion for PennLive, Chadd K. Kraus, DO, a physician and president of the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians (PACEP), pushes elected officials to enact reasonable and logical reforms to avoid the same crisis experienced in the early 2000s.

At that time, the escalating expenses of medical liability insurance prompted physicians to retire prematurely and restricted the range of services available in hospitals and outpatient clinics. This ultimately resulted in a significant lack of critical care, particularly affecting women seeking obstetrics and gynecology services.

Kraus highlighted the most significant reform that improved delivery of health care services: “Venue reform required medical liability lawsuits to be filed in the county where the injury occurred, and this ended trial lawyer venue shopping, saving Pennsylvania’s healthcare delivery system,” he recalled.

But last August, the state’s supreme court backtracked on stability and allowed venue shopping to return.

“If a lawsuit is initiated, it should be filed and litigated in the county where the care was provided, not where the highest malpractice financial award might be won,” Kraus emphasized. “This is simply common sense.”

PACEP is also pushing for subject matter jurisdiction in the county of the adverse outcome, reforming the current certificate of merit statute to require an actual medical expert report from a Pennsylvania licensed physician of the same training and specialty as the defendant physician, and aligning damages to only the economic indicators found in the county of the alleged negligence.

To read Dr. Kraus’s opinion piece in full, click here.