Other blogs and the media have given significant coverage, lately, to a study by Washington University researchers highlighting the emotional turmoil American doctors suffer when they injure a patient through negligence or malpractice. The research is almost as interesting as the misplaced sympathies it seems to engender in media circles. The Joint Commission published the report this month in their Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, implying that many safety shortcomings in our health system are systematic, and perhaps not the sole responsibility of the system’s most visible custodians and benefactors. Policy pundits have echoed those sentiments. While few would accuse physicians of being disaffected or unconcerned by the injuries they inadvertently inflict on patients, fewer still would argue that they aren’t in a position to effect change, or that their responsibility for the health of patients is applicable only for the duration of seven-minute clinical encounter.
No one suggests that doctors don’t grieve when they injure a patient, but as the focus of our public discourse turns increasingly toward systematic shortcomings in the nation’s hospitals, we shouldn’t lose sight of the people who suffer even more from medical mistakes: the patients who have no choice but to trust their lives to those hospitals every day. Patients, alone, have essentially no leverage or authority to effect the procedural and policy changes that could actually reduce medical errors and save lives. The public has been demoralized by poor hospital care for a long time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, now, to see that doctors are, too. But we shouldn’t forget that for all our collective indignation, there’s little evidence that anything is actually improving. In fact, in many cases, the opposite is true. An injured patient’s only recourse when caught in the disabling or fatal fallout of our failing health system is the civil justice system – one that works well. We can’t afford to weaken it, especially now, with sham “tort reform” laws designed explicitly to protect wealthy insurance companies from paying malpractice claims. Those laws only hurt the people who’ve already been hurt the most: innocent patients.
Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:
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