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Medical Errors Are Too Common

Doctors, Insurers Wrong About Medical Malpractice Crisis, Group Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- January 17, 2003 -- Representatives of the consumer groups Center for Medical Consumers, Consumer Federation of America, and Public Citizen recently held a press conference in which they charged that the medical and insurance industries were providing inaccurate information about medical malpractice (Public Citizen, Press Release, January 9, 2003). The medical establishment has refused to take steps to reduce medical errors and is lying to the public (malpractice claims have dropped) to divert attention from medical errors and insurance industry failures, the groups said. Also, they noted that insurance companies are hiking rates because the economic downturn has caused them to lose money on investments, not because of jury awards.

"Doctors are falsely demonizing America's legal system rather than saving tens of thousands of lives and litigation costs by preventing careless or unnecessary medical errors, such as operating on the wrong part of the body," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "Most injured people don't sue. They turn to the courts in egregious situations. Capping damages will only hurt those who have suffered the most. Juries, which hear all the evidence, should decide how much an injured patient deserves, not politicians, who are trying to please their wealthy insurance industry contributors."

Minority of Doctors Account for Most of Malpractice Payouts

National Practitioner Bank data shows that about 5% of doctors account for 54% of malpractice payouts, according to the consumer groups. Of the 35,000 doctors who have had two or more malpractice payouts since 1990, only 7.6% have been disciplined.

The consumer groups also made these points:

  • The number of new medical malpractice claims declined by about four percent between 1995 and 2000. There is no growth in the number of new medical malpractice claims.
  • While medical costs have increased by 113 percent since 1987, the amount spent on medical malpractice insurance has increased by just 52 percent over that time.
  • Insurance companies are raising rates because of poor returns on their investments, not because of increased litigation.
  • Malpractice insurance costs amount to only 3.2 percent of the average physician's revenues.
  • Few medical errors ever result in legal claims. Only one malpractice claim is made for every 7.6 hospital injuries, according to a Harvard study.

Solutions to Malpractice Problems

Solutions to malpractice problems lie in reducing medical errors. These were some recommendations made by the consumer groups:

  • Medical boards should discipline all bad doctors. They should receive more money and staff to investigate complaints.
  • States should require hospitals and other health care providers to institute meaningful risk prevention programs.
  • Doctors should be re certified based on a written exam and audit of their patients' medical records.
  • Hospitals should use computers to order and track prescriptions (these can cut errors by 55 percent), address the nursing shortage, and reduce the long hours of medical residents.

The groups released a large amount of data aimed at debunking myths, including a briefing book entitled Medical Misdiagnosis: Challenging the Malpractice Claims of the Doctors' Lobby. Also see these related articles: Report Finds Drug Errors at Health Care Facilities; and Charges of Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Crisis Are False.

If you have suffered a medical injury and believe you were the victim of medical negligence, please feel free to contact us at Brayton Purcell concerning your legal options. We have almost 20 years of experience in the medical malpractice field.

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