Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Best Plan for America - Part 3

When we've reformed campaign financing, letting us end corn subsidies, we can get to the task of reforming tort laws and malpractice resolution processes.

3) Stop frivolous lawsuits against hospitals and doctors.
Why can suing doctors and hospitals be bad? It leads to doctors running unnecessary tests and performing unnecessary procedures and prescribing unnecessary drugs so that they can't be accused of not trying everything. These unnecessary tests and treatments can cause problems for a patient (side-effects, infections), and increase health costs. When costs go up, people with less money are rationed out of health care. Also, over use of these services creates delays, making people who need them wait, perhaps too long. Where lawsuits are common (Pennsylvania), malpractice insurance rates go up, which also increases the cost of proving care, and drives doctors away, which reduces the availability of good care. Hospitals need to hold larger amounts of money in reserve in case they get sued, which is money that could otherwise be used to improve care for patients.

But what if something bad happens because of a doctor's decision? Well, that's not exactly what malpractice is. We live in a very complex system, and have complex bodies with complex problems. There are hardly any treatments that work 100%, and sometimes bad things happen even when all the correct decisions were made given the available information. Doctors and hospitals should absolutely be protected from lawsuits if they can demonstrate that they followed known best practices. Rogue doctors who make decisions based on their feelings or personal experience instead of the collected empirical data of their fields can go hang.

Even when a doctor does do something wrong, the money involved should be more reasonable. Payouts are sometimes so ridiculously large (which hurts the entire system, remember, and not just the one doctor) that malpractice insurance companies often choose to settle for smaller amounts instead of going to court. This happens even when the doctor is innocent. So, we end up with a bunch of doctors being denied the opportunities to prove their innocence because an insurance company doesn't want to risk a big payout. These settlements are strikes against innocent doctors, and affect their abilities to get jobs, and can even result in licensure problems. If payouts were limited to reasonable amounts, the system would be more conducive to actually determining whether a doctor did something wrong, instead of settling with opportunists who sue at the drop of a hat.

By making it more difficult and less profitable to sue, we improve the entire system. Treatment becomes more accessible to those who need it, costs go down, overall outcomes improve, we can more often actually learn which doctors did something wrong and which were frivolously accused, and we encourage evidence-based medicine instead of defensive medicine. The only people who would really suffer are lawyers.

No comments:

Post a Comment