Monday, June 15, 2015

Malpractice Cases and the Impact on Doctors' Time

Malpractice Cases and Doctors' Time
Malpractice and Doctors' Time
Anyone who has worked with physicians—or any healthcare providers, for that matter—know that medical malpractice claims inflict tremendous burdens— financial, emotional, work, and time—on the entire healthcare system.

Can you say, “Duh!”? We’ve known that for a long time! These cases don't necessarily consume all his or her time, but it lurks about in the corners of the physician’s mind, both conscious and unconscious.

The financial costs aren’t even measurable. Consider the ways that today’s flood of litigation imposes costs on an already struggling system. To name just the big, obvious ones:
  • Legal costs, legal-system resources, and breathtaking jury awards; 
  • Six-digit annual malpractice premiums; 
  • Loss of physician (and support staff) productivity; and 
  • Defensive medicine’s redundant and unnecessary tests and procedures. 
The most common solution proposed by healthcare advocates—tort reform—seems to be working in some states. The thousands of lawyers we have elected to Congress and to state assemblies resist the idea, but not just to serve their own interests. Damage caps threaten the rights of plaintiffs. When a bad provider has indeed been negligent, the system needs to go further than a financial “slap on the wrist.” Punitive damages are needed to punish wrongdoers. Further, damage caps address only one small portion of the system costs. Productivity loss and defensive medicine costs will continue to burden the system.

We’ve become a real fan of properly executed “disclosure and apology” programs. Other scientific studies show tremendous positive impact on the medicolegal systems where such programs have been implemented. The beauty of disclosure and apology programs is that they bring providers and patients to the same side of the table. The tort system makes them enemies—a disclosure/ apology system can make them allies.

Resolved claims take less time—but still a long time. After a suit is filed, it takes from 16 to 21 months to come to a conclusion. The litigation process can actually be more distressing for the doctors than the potential financial damages. During adjudication, the stress can be nearly overwhelming, as physicians deal with a loss of reputation and the loss of time spent dealing with the claim instead of practicing medicine.

The suffering reaches beyond the physician to include his or her staff, the patient, and the patient’s family as well. It’s to everyone’s benefit to find ways to speed up the process and shorten the time required to resolve malpractice cases. Several suggestions for fast-tracking a resolution include creating special malpractice courts or implementing effective apology and disclosure programs.

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