Grappling with a misguided medical malpractice system

Healthcare providers will inevitably make mistakes. Though physicians and nurses are trained to treat every patient in accordance to certain standards of care, healthcare providers are human and will make mistakes from time to time. It is correct that these providers be held accountable for the mistakes they make, should those mistakes cause patients harm. Patients aim to hold providers responsible and obtain the compensation they deserve through medical malpractice claims.

However, the inevitability of mistakes on the part of providers should be informing the functionality of the medical malpractice system more than it currently does now. Based on a physician’s area of expertise, he or she will face a medical malpractice claim every seven years or so. These claims should be processed with appropriate urgency and then if the physician has not behaved so negligently that his or her license is suspended, he or she should then be allowed to return to work informed by the knowledge that his or her mistakes have real consequences.

Unfortunately, the medical malpractice system functions largely without the expectation that nearly all physicians will face malpractice claims over the course of their careers. The legal battles over these claims drag on so long that a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs indicate that 10 percent of any given physician’s medical career will be spent dealing with these claims.

The current structure and procedures governing the medical malpractice system are contributing to patient harm and physician resentment. If the system was more prepared for the fact that physicians will make mistakes and should be held accountable for them, perhaps doctors could practice more medicine and patients could receive their due more quickly and efficiently than they can currently.

Source: Forbes, “Medical Malpractice: Broken Beyond Repair?” Robert Glatter, Feb. 6, 2013

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