You’ve no doubt been hearing a lot about “Tort Reform,” or what I like to call “malpractice entitlements.” The idea is simple: someone hurts you through their own carelessness, but you pick up the bill (or, if you can’t afford it, the taxpayer picks it up through medicaid and the like). But obstetricians in New York have shown that patient safety and outcomes can be radically improved, with real reduction in the costs of litigation, with some basic common sense approaches (from Crain’s New York):
Delivering babies can be a high-stakes undertaking for hospitals, with the threat of multi-million-dollar malpractice damages when serious mishaps occur. But a team of Manhattan obstetricians says it has beaten the odds—dramatically reducing errors and slashing their department’s medical malpractice payouts by more than 99%.
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At Weill Cornell, the safety changes resulted in annual medical malpractice payouts dropping from an average of a $28 million from 2003 to 2006 to $2.6 million a year from 2007 to 2009. With no sentinel events reported in 2008 and 2009, those totals are expected to drop still further.
How’d they do it? With simple steps like replacing a whiteboard system with an electronic one, and using better patient care documentation to insure better care (and to ensure they could show when mistakes did not occur, for legal purposes). That’s right, a few simple steps, and a dramatic reduction in both patient care and, unsurprisingly, patient lawsuits. Good news for everyone, unless you want tort reform and don’t care about facts:
At NYACOG, executive director Donna Montalto says her group does not support that bill but still pushes for tort reform. The Weill Cornell study has not changed her group’s position. “We are all for obstetric safety but safety is not tort reform. We need reform now.” said Ms. Montalto.
“Safety is not tort reform,” huh? Remember that next time someone tells you tort reform is a good idea. This is simply an attempt to allow one group to be negligent, without bearing the costs—it’s an “entitlement” is the worst sense of the word.
There are plenty of ways to reduce malpractice. I’ve written about the Checklist solution before, and the simple upgrades written about above are a great example of how simple the solutions can be. Study after study shows that many Americans are injured or even killed by avoidable mistakes, and that simple solutions exist to change that.
What doesn’t work is putting an arbitrary cap on damages, essentially saying, “no mother’s (or father’s, or child’s) life is worth more than $250,000.” The best way to reduce medical malpractice lawsuit costs is to reduce medical malpractice. Simple, logical, and it works, as this example has shown. (Other examples include the airline industry, that shaped up and reduced accidents dramatically.) Oklahoma is looking at precisely these types of malpractice entitlements, rather than patient safety, right now.
What do you think? Do you agree with the Crain’s readers, who were voting 80% against malpractice entitlements the last time I checked? Share your comments below!
Previous Malpractice Entitlements Articles:
- Malpractice Entitlements on the Way
- Oklahoma Republicans Show True Colors: Anti-Justice Business Tools
Tags: Malpractice Entitlements, reducing medical malpractice, tort deform, tort reform, patient safety, Crain’s, Weill Cornell, NYACOG, Donna Montalto
UPDATE: Here’s a great tort reform mythology Q& A from "The Medical Malpractice Myth" author and law school professor Tom Baker, written by Anne Underwood. This book is a great read for people who want to know the actual facts and figures at issue in tort reform.