An end in sight for medical malpractice tort reform?

The healthcare community has long debated the issue of medical malpractice, with patient safety advocates being some of the most vocal supporters. The problem has seen some traction in recent years, but not everybody is happy with the speed that things are currently progressing at.

Those who support the reform of medical malpractice laws say that as it is right now, victims of malpractice aren’t being compensated enough. Many are quick to cite statistics, most of which are provided by victims themselves. However it doesn’t matter if there are a hundred or a hundred thousand cases – healthcare providers and medical experts are still not proactive enough.

On the other hand we’ve got trial lawyers who are fighting against tort reform under the banner of protecting people from incompetent medical professionals.

But who actually benefits from tort reform? Why is the debate so polarized and why is progress so slow?

Critics are quick to point out that trial lawyers have a financial stake in the game – they want to see an increase in malpractice caps only because that’s how they can get to make more money from their clients. Proposition 46 in California would raise the cap of non-economic damages, and, not surprisingly, is written and supported solely by lawyers. Local and statewide organizations have been quick to oppose Prop 46, pointing out that if such a law were to be approved, the costs would fall onto taxpayers while raising the premiums for both healthcare and insurance.

Tort reform is a delicate issue that needs to be thought over. If anyone could get exactly what they wanted, malpractice victims would get bigger compensations and medical practitioners would get reasonable, stable rates for malpractice insurance, healthcare costs would remain low and tax payers would not have to shell out more to cover the costs of malpractice lawsuits.

But what if we were looking at the problem from the wrong angle the whole time? What if the issue isn’t about financials but professional responsibility? Wouldn’t it be better if we focused on having higher patient safety and train medical professionals more thoroughly so as to eliminate any possibility of medical malpractice? If we had safety in mind instead of money, there would be less errors being committed and less lawsuits being filed.

For anything good to come out of tort reform, all sides would have to benefit in some way. A more radical approach would be to eliminate medical malpractice altogether – but of course, that would only be possible in a perfect world. As it stands, medical malpractice reform is still a long way from being realized.

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11/5/14 Update:  Proposition 46, the ballot initiative to include random physician drug and alcohol testing and raise the limit awards for pain and suffering from $250,000 to over $1 million for victims of medical malpractice, has failed.

photo credit: a.drian

Category: Uncategorized

- October 2, 2014