Medical Malpractice Myths
What is a myth? A myth is widely-held but false belief or idea. You know, like exercise is only beneficial to your body if it hurts when you are done. The myths relating to medical malpractice are many and they are often repeated on a daily basis with the aid of a willing media. You would be forgiven for accepting that medical malpractice lawsuits are so out of control that they have closed our hospitals, crippled our healthcare system and just about ruined our economy. What do you need to know about medical malpractice myths?
The main myths – recounted as unquestionable facts – are that:
- hard-working doctors are fleeing the medical profession in droves for fear of being sued
- misguided plaintiffs led by greedy lawyers are bringing claims that have no merit and forcing hospitals to settle for millions
- insurance premiums are rising fast as a direct result of frivolous lawsuits and excessive awards made by sympathetic juries.
The upshot of the mantra is that low-life patients always win, upstanding doctors always lose and every member of the public suffers financially as a result. Well, the rhetoric does sound convincing, and yet research has proven that these statements are just not true.
Who perpetuates these myths?
The “who” are the selfish big-business groups that eat, breathe and sleep medical liability reform. The US Chamber of Commerce is the main cheerleader for change on behalf of the multi-national corporations. It has shown little concern for the wholesome principles of truth, fairness and justice to which all Americans are entitled. The Chamber has strong support from the American Medical Association, a trade association for physicians, as well as from other agenda-driven trade associations. They would have you believe that all plaintiffs are chancers eagerly playing the system in the hope of a lottery style payday at the expense of doctors and insurance companies.
Big-business interests fund and support the Chamber to the tune of millions of dollars each week which they use to think up more creative ways to stifle the victims. Their answer to a non-existent problem is to change tort law and make it harder for a plaintiff to sue a medical practitioner. Let’s put up hurdles to prevent the victims getting into the courthouse. Even if the victims manage to clear these hurdles, we can restrict the amount of money that juries can award. Man’s inhumanity to man.
The main legislative changes that the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform continues to push for are:
- a cap on non-economic damages (these are damages for what people go through, like pain and suffering and grief for loss of a loved one)
- a limit on attorney fees (we know how we feel about that)
- creation of specialist health-courts staffed with medical experts to weed out “frivolous” cases. (Frivolous in the sense that the arrogant wrongdoers do not want to address the case and not that the victim’s case has no merit.
It is no secret that the Chamber has little regard for plaintiff lawyers, environmentalists, or union leaders. These are the types of representatives whose job it is to work hard on behalf of those on low incomes or with limited means to obtain representation. They provide a necessary and valuable service for victims and vulnerable citizens of America.
The corporate giants really do not care about you. The idea of health and safety and welfare of individuals has gone out of the window. These organizations have not stopped to think that most cases would not get to a lawyer, let alone a court, if the doctors or nurses would just speak to the patients and their families. Often if they had just explained the procedure or the mistake the family would have accepted it as “these things happen”. After all, it is not always the case that someone is to blame and there have been many cases where a court has determined just that. Instead the doctors usually refer the patients’ questions to their own lawyers and then retreat behind their trade body. The frustrated patient converts overnight into a reluctant plaintiff. If the plaintiff attorney believes that the medical providers have a serious case to answer then a lawsuit will usually follow. And so the cycle continues.
Replacing myths with facts
The real problem is that there are too many instances of medical malpractice. If you misplace your scalpel inside a patient’s chest and that patient remains in constant pain you should expect to answer a few questions. Like, was there really nowhere else that you could have rested your sharp instrument? It cannot be too much to ask that double-checking occurs as standard in hospitals, and that disaster-avoidance mechanisms are put in place when life and physical well-being is at stake. Far more people die each year from medical malpractice than from vehicular accidents or work place incidents. This shouldn’t happen and in the main it is totally avoidable.
Vested business interests have complained about the rises in insurance premiums over the past thirty years caused, they say, by an increase in medical lawsuits. Research has shown that these rises were caused by financial trends (poor returns on investments of premiums) and competitive behavior in the insurance market. The rises could not be attributed to an explosion of medical negligence litigation or to multi-million dollar settlements.
Although medical malpractice injures tens of thousands of patients every year the truth is that most of the victims do not sue. Less than 3% do so. It is the victims who are left to suffer the cost of the medical malpractice either because they are uninformed or because they feel too intimidated to challenge established medical authorities. Those victims that survive the medical malpractice will stoically bear the expense of medicines to relieve their pain and suffering, and accept the financial strain arising from lost work hours. It doesn’t have to be this way.
by Michael McCready