Innovative Health Care Safety Programs Do More to Reform Medical Malpractice Claims October 14, 2011.

Tort reform and especially caps tomedical malpractice damages is a hot button topic. No one seems to get the premise behind penalizing patients twice for medical negligence.

It is public knowledge that medical negligence in the USA (and other countries) is, quite frankly, rampant. Recent statistics show that medical mistakes happen in one third of hospital admissions, and it will get worse as the population grows, the health care system gets overtaxed, the number of doctors dwindles and the pressure cooker that medical professionals work in continues to get more stressful.

What is completely incomprehensible is the fact that politicians, and authorities in other industries like insurance, insist on trying to reduce accountability and the legal rights of seriously hurt or dead patients that the medical profession failed. It is actually not much of a surprise that politicians and the insurance industry are holding hands in trying to reduce legal accountability. Their bottom line is keeping the dollars they make on insurance, not giving it out to patients.

Not all insurance companies are avaricious vultures. In fact, there is the odd insurance carrier that has decided to take a progressive step forward by suggesting to hospitals that they implement a comprehensive patient safety program. This particular program, rolled out in the labor and delivery unit at one of New York’s largest hospitals, saw insurance claims drop.

What did they do? Among other things, the program required training teams with the aim of improving communication, implementing e-medical record charting to eliminate any mistakes in reading doctor’s handwriting, revamped on-call scheduling, set up new drug regimens, ensured physician’s assistants were used appropriately and held obstetric emergency drills. This is innovative and really, these steps should be implemented when a mother delivers a child.

The results of these changes indicate that the program significantly reduced adverse events and, in turn, had an immediate impact on compensation payments. By educating the obstetrics team, making lines of communication clearer, making safety changes for patients and improving how patients were treated, the number of medical malpractice claims dropped. Why are politicians and other authorities not speaking up about this?

If people truly paid attention to this issue, they would recognize that penalizing medical malpractice victims twice – once when their doctor fails them and twice when the courts unjustly diminish an equitable award – does not help the victim. It does not help the system reduce medical malpractice claims. Instead, the claims remain at an all-time high and more awards (at a lesser amount) are being paid out for medical errors.

On the other hand, teach medical professionals these steps and they can then protect and save lives more. Teaching a medical team how to work with and for their patients, and fewer medical errors are made and compensation claims drop. That is what saves money. Stealing the bulk of a medical malpractice plaintiff’s jury award for an egregious act committed by a doctor does not save money, unless you count the money the insurance company kept. Never forget that a victim’s life was completely ruined by medical negligence – the kind of medical negligence that doctors seem to think they should not have to pay for, in any way, shape or form.

In other words, what happens to the victim in all this? This is an issue that people need to take a prompt, close look at. As a nation that prides itself on justice for all, it is stunningly ironic that governments and insurance companies think denying medical malpractice victims their due justice is an okay thing to do. It is not – period.