In February, Christina A. Minami and her colleagues published an article in the journal of the American College of Surgeons about the impact of medical malpractice lawsuits and litigation on surgeries in the United States: “Impact of Medical Malpractice Environment on Surgical Quality and Outcomes.” (links to abstract only)
The authors aimed to “perform a systematic review of the literature to examine the association between malpractice environment and outcomes in surgical specialties.”
What did they conclude, and why?
Before we analyze the paper, let’s take a look at some interesting assumptions they made at the beginning of the research project. They wrote: “the annual cost of the medical malpractice system has been estimated to be $55 billion. The medical malpractice crisis that began unfolding in the late part of the 20th century continues to be a major concern. The intent of the malpractice system, based on classic tort deterrence theory, assumes that the looming threat of a malpractice suit will deter poor care because providers will be more vigilant and responsible. Proponents of the liability system believe that the threat of malpractice suits will encourage providers to adhere to standards of care, which, in turn, should lead to better patient outcomes.”
They also describe a recent study that “found that one-quarter of American surgeons had been the subject of a malpractice suit over the preceding two years.” They mention that some analysts worry that these lawsuits “may force providers to leave high malpractice risk environments.”
In other words, surgeons might be deterred from engaging in risky, but important medical practices because they don’t want to get sued.
There are several potentially problematic implications here.
First of all, when discussing the medical malpractice “environment,” you cannot leave out the Goliath role played by insurance companies. Many advocates of so-called tort reform want to blame trial lawyers for escalating insurance costs – and thus for indirectly creating stress for medical practitioners. However, a compelling case can be made that trial lawyers are not to blame; rather, insurance companies control the financial dynamics that make circumstances miserable for doctors.
Secondly, there’s a troubling subtext in this article: a suggestion that lawsuits against surgeons are out of control. The authors wrote: “One quarter of American surgeons have been the subject of a malpractice suit over the past preceding two years,” thus seeming to imply that lawyers are going crazy and filing spurious suits against surgeons.
Compelling evidence, however, paints a decisively different picture. As recent Harvard University review of medical malpractice cases found, the vast, vast majority of malpractice cases are well-grounded. In fact, it’s likely that the lion’s share of medical malpractice incidences go un-litigated and unpunished.
If you or somebody you love believes you’ve been the victim of some kind of malpractice, we invite you to contact the Regan, Zambri & Long team today for a free consultation with our DC medical malpractice lawyers at (202) 753-4272.