The July/August issue of Health Affairs was released today, and it's a doozy: half the issue is devoted to observations, empirical studies, and prescriptions for what is universally described as a medical-malpractice crisis. Here are some of the highlights (from the free previews and abstracts on the journal's web site
- The Forgotten Third: Liability Insurance And The Medical Malpractice Crisis, William M. Sage [Abstract]:
Although the most visible manifestations of medical malpractice involve patient safety and the legal process, the availability and affordability of liability insurance largely determine the direction of medical malpractice policy. Scientific and industrial developments since the first modern malpractice crisis in the 1970s reveal major problems with the structure and regulation of liability insurance. Comprehensive reforms that approach medical malpractice insurance as a health policy problem are needed, and the Medicare program may have a major role to play.
- A Mediation Skills Model To Manage Disclosure Of Errors And Adverse Events To Patients, Carol B. Liebman and Chris Stern Hyman [Abstract]:
In 2002 Pennsylvania became the first state to impose on hospitals a statutory duty to notify patients in writing of a serious event. If the disclosure conversations are carefully planned, properly executed, and responsive to patients’ needs, this new requirement creates possible benefits for both patient safety and litigation risk management. This paper describes a model for accomplishing these goals that encourages health care providers to communicate more effectively with patients following an adverse event or medical error, learn from mistakes, respond to the concerns of patients and families after an adverse event, and arrive at a fair and cost-effective resolution of valid claims.
- Improving The Medical Malpractice Litigation Process, Catherine T. Struve
Critics charge that judges and juries are incompetent to address medical liability issues. Some advocate shifting authority away from ordinary judges and juries, either by appointing "expert" decisionmakers, such as "medical screening panels" or specialized "medical courts," or by instituting caps on damages. Problems with the tort liability system may weigh in favor of a shift to a no-fault administrative compensation system. If the current fault-based system is retained, however, policymakers should not adopt half-measures by creating "expert" panels or "expert" courts. Rather, they should better equip the existing decisionmakers to deal with liability and damages questions.
- Caring For Patients In A Malpractice Crisis: Physician Satisfaction And Quality Of Care, Michelle M. Mello, David M. Studdert, Catherine M. DesRoches, Jordon Peugh, Kinga Zapert, Troyen A. Brennan, and William M. Sage [Abstract]:
The rhetoric of malpractice reform is at fever pitch, but political advocacy does not necessarily reflect grassroots opinion. To determine whether the ongoing liability crisis has greatly reduced physicians’ professional satisfaction, we surveyed specialist physicians in Pennsylvania. We found widespread discontent among physicians practicing in high-liability environments, which seems to be compounded by other financial and administrative pressures. Opinion alone should not determine public policy, but physicians’ perceptions matter for two reasons. First, perceptions influence behavior with respect to practice environment and clinical decision making. Second, perceptions influence the physician-patient relationship and the interpersonal quality of care.
- Are Damages Caps Regressive? A Study Of Malpractice Jury Verdicts In California, David M. Studdert, Y. Tony Yang, and Michelle M. Mello [Abstract]:
Caps on damages have emerged as the most controversial legislative response to the new malpractice crisis. We analyzed a sample of high-end jury verdicts in California that were subjected to the state’s $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages. We found strong evidence that the cap’s fiscal impact was distributed inequitably across different types of injuries. In absolute dollar terms, the reductions imposed on grave injury were seven times larger than those for minor injury; the largest proportional reductions were for injuries that centered on pain and disfigurement. Use of sliding scales of damages instead of or in conjunction with caps would mitigate their adverse impacts on fairness.