FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- September 27, 2002 -- Charges that Florida is facing a "medical malpractice litigation crisis" are false, according to a recent report by Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy group. Many more medical errors are committed than give rise to lawsuits, and just a small percentage of doctors are responsible for half of the malpractice awards in Florida, the study charges. Also, the spike in some medical malpractice premiums is an insurance industry pricing and profitability problem, not a legal system problem.
"Florida already has some of the most Draconian medical malpractice restrictions of any state in the nation," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "Yet the American Medical Association and the Florida Medical Association want to limit people's rights to be compensated for horrible medical injuries even further. Meanwhile, they offer false allegations and half-truths to divert attention from the real issue, which is poor medical care."
Statistics Show Doctor Errors Greatly Exceed Lawsuits
This new Public Citizen study examines statistics from two sources--injury data reported by hospitals to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration and the "public use" file of the National Practitioner Data Bank, which reports on doctors who commit malpractice. Among its findings:
- The number of medical injuries reported by Florida hospitals exceeds by six to one the number of medical malpractice claims. From 1996 through 1999, Florida hospitals reported 19,885 adverse incidents but only 3,177 medical malpractice claims. Adverse incidents are "events over which health care personnel could exercise control" that result in death or injury.
- Only 6 percent of Florida doctors (2,674 out of 44,747 doctors) are responsible for half the malpractice and its costs.
- Out of 24 Florida doctors who have paid 10 or more medical malpractice judgments, only 12 have ever been disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine.
- Rate increases for many types of insurance other than medical malpractice also are up in Florida. This is largely the result of insurance industry economics.
Recommendations for Better Health Care
Public Citizen recommends that all final medical board, hospital and federal disciplinary actions concerning medical malpractice be made public, and that doctors disclose medical errors to patients. Also, the National Practitioner Data Bank should become public information. The group also suggests rating doctors on performance for malpractice premium purposes, subjecting those with many claims to higher malpractice premiums.