Doctors and other healthcare providers hold people’s lives in their hands every day. While most take that responsibility extremely seriously, we all know health care is not as safe as it should be. Studies show that an alarming number of patients are harmed by medical mistakes, and far too many die prematurely as a result.
Fifteen years ago, the Institute of Medicine published a study, “To Err is Human” and estimated that at that time 98,000 people died annually from preventable medical errors. While this began a patient safety movement, we are still a long way from where it should be. In fact, we seem to be going in the wrong direction.
The Journal of Patient Safety recently published a study that estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 people die annually in the U.S. from preventable medical errors in hospitals. This does not include thousands who die outside of hospitals due to medical errors. Causes include, but are not limited to, infections, preventable blood clots, adverse drug events, and diagnostic errors.
While most doctors do everything possible to save lives, preventable medical errors are still the third leading cause of death in America. Yet, despite this serious epidemic, insurance companies and special interest groups often turn the malpractice issue around and try to make us believe doctors are the victims. When innocent victims try to seek compensation for their loss, we hear phrases like “lawsuit abuse”, “tort reform”, “liability reform”, “frivolous lawsuit”, and “jackpot justice.”
Where is the outcry for malpractice victims? Medical negligence is the problem, not plaintiffs and not their attorneys or the legal system. Injured victims, or families of those who lost a loved one, are not out to win the lottery; they are in real pain and trying to move on with life as best they can. Our civil justice system gives victims an avenue to seek accountability. Lawsuits send a strong message that it is financially unwise to cut corners or ignore safety concerns. Yet, tort reform restricts a victims’ access to justice and restricts accountability to a doctor who fails to practice with safety as his top priority. Removing accountability leaves all of us at risk from negligent care. No wonder medical errors continue at epidemic levels.
We cannot continue to allow special interest groups to put patient safety and protection at risk. We cannot let them continue to compromise our access to justice and deny victims the right to fair compensation.
We need more accountability, not less. Misleading and inaccurate myths about the source of the high costs of medical liability insurance distracts from the cause and avoids a solution to the problem. It is time we hold wrongdoers accountable and force them to consider safety in the context of its effect on profits. The focus should be on developing plans to reduce medical errors, not depriving innocent victims to just compensation. Quality improvement efforts will do more than tort reform in helping hospitals improve patient care, contain costs and reduce the number of malpractice lawsuits. Reducing the number of lawsuits, and the costs associated with them, would help save money that could be spent to improve quality care.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.