Medical malpractice lawsuits: An excellent idea in NYC

While I normally cheer on lawsuits—I view them as, personally, a route to a form of justice and, politically, a sturdy limb on the legislative tree—I have a problem with medical malpractice suits.

Because I’ve got many excellent physicians in the family, I take myself off any potential med mal jury. (I once did it so vociferously, I think I poisoned the entire jury pool.) I’ve heard so much from physicians who get dragged into these lawsuits, I’m prejudiced.

I know of too many cases generated by people (and lawyers) who believe that if something goes wrong with their bodies, it’s always somebody’s fault. Somebodies, actually: medical malpractice cases name every physician who might have walked past the plaintiff’s bedside and nodded.

Doctors pay so much in liability insurance—especially doctors who practice in areas of medicine that are difficult and risky—many of them have to drop out of individualized medicine. My own ob-gyn has had to drop obstetrics, a practice she loves, because her insurance is so high, she can’t pay the premium and keep her doors open.

Insurance companies have succeeded in their subversive goal: making physicians “health care workers,” faceless cogs in the insurance machine. They’ve somehow convinced millions of people that the (profit-making) Corporation, not the physician, is the proper guardian of our health.

Over the course of several years of passionate discussions, my sister (a physician who has been on the best doctors in the metropolitan area listings) and I solved the problem. Although nobody seemed to be listening to us.

So I was really pleased to read in the June 13, 2011 New York Times, a front page story entitled “To Curb Malpractice Costs, Judges Jump In Early.” Take a look, at In New York, Malpractice Negotiations Offer Way to Curb Health Care Expenses –

It’s one part of the solution: judges knowledgeable about medicine handle med mal cases individually, before the usual lengthy and expensive process of such lawsuits.

One innovation I wanted to read about in the article but didn’t: the establishment of a panel of experienced judges to review medical malpractice complaints immediately after the complaint is filed. The judges would determine, first, the validity of the claims in toto—and dismiss the inadequate or specious ones—and then would review the accuracy of the claims against each defendant. And in that initial evaluation dismiss the defendants against whom there is no provable cause of action.

Individual physicians who have had no responsibility for a patient’s medical catastrophe are usually dismissed as defendants from a case, but by the time they are, they and/or their insurance companies have had to defend themselves.

A very expensive process, whether or not they are dismissed. And whether or not they are dismissed, the insurance companies raise their premiums.

And why shouldn’t the state, which licenses physicians, provide (non-profit) medical malpractice insurance? That’s another fair way of cutting health care costs.

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