How widespread is medical malpractice? What are the real costs for patients, for the medical system, for doctors and for insurers? And what can be done to fix the system’s fundamental structural problems? A compelling recent piece in Forbes Magazine, “Malpractice Lawsuits Aren’t Just About the Money,” dissects the scope and breath of the problem; it’s truly breathtaking.
The piece begins with the tale of a woman named “Karen,” a Board Certified physician whose mother had been rushed to the hospital, because she had been on the wrong medication. Terrified and enraged, Karen called her mother’s doctor, who proclaimed that he was “on vacation” and could not be bothered to come in and see the sick patient.
Even though Karen was “Board Certified in three specialties,” she felt helpless to navigate the system. Should she file a lawsuit? Perhaps she could complain to the Joint Commission on Safe Accreditation – a watchdog organization that promotes safety and quality care at hospitals. Good idea in theory. Unfortunately, only a third of the 3,000+ hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission have the distinction of being “top performers.” What’s more: 2,400 hospitals throughout the country do not even have this accreditation.
The Scope of the Malpractice Debacle
Nearly 100,000 people die and 300,000 people suffer injuries every year at U.S. hospitals due to avoidable errors, per the National Institute of Medicine. This is simply an unacceptable situation.
And reformers are frustrated.
In 2004, reformers created the Institute for Health Care Improvement, which urged hospitals to sign on to evidence-based strategies to protect people from the dangers of malpractice, using objective metrics, and to implement positive changes. 1,000+ hospitals signed on, but these hospitals were notoriously slow to implement key recommendations and often behaved in recalcitrant fashion.
Hospitals have not been the only institutions resistant to change.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (ACOG) famously failed to implement powerful changes that helped New York Presbyterian Hospital drop its rate of “sentinel events” (those causing death or serious injury) from 1 out of a 1000 to zero, over a span of just a few years.
Why did ACOG refuse to make these changes? According to the Forbes article, ACOG rejected the reforms “on the grounds they [might] infringe on individual doctor or hospital prerogatives.”
In other words, ACOG made a choice that it’s more important to preserve doctor/hospital autonomy than it is to prevent sentinel events in patients.
That’s a cynical calculus, if there ever was one.
By contrast, consider what the American Society of Anesthesiologists did back in the early 80s, in the wake of a series of awful patient incidents. That organization did a thorough work over of its processes and, within a decade, dropped the rate of death from anesthesia from 1 in 6,000 to 1 in 200,000.
If you or somebody you love needs legal assistance with a potential case, contact the Washington D.C. malpractice attorneys at Regan Zambri & Long today at (202) 463-3030 for a free consultation.