Hundreds of thousands of patients in United States hospitals die from medical mistakes every year. There are no indications that injuries or deaths from malpractice are declining, either. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins illuminate recent studies from the country's top medical experts who are trying to enact fundamental change to protect patients.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published a report finding that patients who suffer medical mistakes rarely get an apology or even an acknowledgement from their doctors. They also found that, when officials did acknowledge the harm done to patients, it was often only because they were forced to.
About 30% of injured patients paid medical bills resulting from malpractice, with an average cost of over $14,000. Researchers guessed that, although doctors would like to be more open with their patients, they lack the moral courage to do so. The authors recommended that medical schools and training programs start introducing skills on how to best inform patients when mistakes are made.
Others in the field recommend similar alternative approaches to help curb medical injuries. In the past, medical malpractice issues have been left largely up to legislative bodies, with tort reform laws and limits on the amount of damages patients can collect. Since there is no evidence that injuries and deaths from malpractice are declining, alternative are obviously needed.
A new analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that now may be the perfect time for alternative malpractice reform. Among these include communication and resolution programs, apology laws, judge-directed negotiations, and administrative compensation systems.
The goal is to have serious medical errors trigger a process that effectively allowed healing and learning for both doctors and patients. Unfortunately, the current process does not typically allow patients or doctors to grow positively from a malpractice event. Doctors resent the legal framework that forces them to practice defensive - instead of preventative - medicine. Meanwhile, patients continue to be injured in ever-increasing numbers, without any type of acknowledgement or apology afterwards. Often, all they want is an "I'm sorry."
The malpractice system must address two core issues: compensating patients wrongly injured, and deterring substandard medical care. The current system is mediocre at best, and relies almost exclusively on tort reform, which creates barriers to bringing malpractice lawsuits, limits the amount injured patients can recover, and changes how damages are paid.
About 30 states have passed laws placing a cap on the maximum amount patients can recover in malpractice lawsuits. This not only does not solve the problem, but further harms those patients who have already been injured. There are about seven types of nontraditional malpractice reforms in the works:
1. Communication and resolution programs - after an error is made, doctors discuss the problem directly with patients, seek resolution, offer apologies, and potentially offer compensation.
2. Administrative compensation systems - malpractice claims route to a system that uses experts, evidence-based guidelines, and compensation standards to offer patients resolution.
3. Safe harbors - laws that protect doctors who can prove they followed best-practices guidelines for the injured patient.
4. Mandatory pre-suit notification laws - injured patients would be required to give medical officials advanced notice that they intend to sue.
5. Judge-directed negotiations - patients and doctors meet with a judge who will guide them toward settlement with assistance from nonpartisan legal advisors.
6. Apology laws - any apology or admission of fault by a doctor or hospital would not be permissible to use in malpractice lawsuits.
7. State-facilitated dispute resolution laws - patients and doctors would voluntarily work with a state-appointed agency that would help resolve conflict, which may not be used in trial.