Brown, Christie & Green Congratulates Scholarship Essay Winner!
Brown, Christie & Green is proud to offer a $500 scholarship to college students driven toward success. The 2019 winner of our Essay Contest Scholarship program is Michelina Hanlon.
About Michelina Hanlon
Michelina Hanlon is an undergraduate student at Stanford University. Her academic interests include mathematics, physics, and psychology. Outside of academics, she spent most of her life pursuing ballet and placed 2nd in the Youth American Grand Prix Regional Finals in 2017.
She matriculated at Stanford in the fall of 2018 and took a leave of absence in 2019 to dance in Europe. She is excited to be returning to Stanford this fall to continue her studies and is very grateful and honored to have been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Brown, Christie & Green scholarship!
Read the Winning Essay
Role of the Government in Protecting Patients from Injury
Adverse effects of medical treatment (AEMT) are taking the lives of thousands of Americans each year. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the number of deaths due to medical error was estimated in 2016 to be 251,454 per year — which would mean AEMT is the third leading cause of death in America. Although there is some speculation on this research suggesting that this number is a gross overestimate, the bottom line is that AEMT is causing preventable deaths and injuries every year. The US government has taken some action to protect patients from AEMT, but it seems clear that not enough is being done to reduce the number of medical errors resulting in injury or death. The role of government should be to decrease the amount of medical errors and to fairly compensate wrongfully injured patients and their families.
In order to discuss the role of the government in protecting patients from injury, it is necessary to understand the system surrounding medical malpractice as a whole. The current system is based on negligence. If a patient or the patient’s family feels that physician negligence resulted in injury or death, they can sue their physician. If found liable, then they are compensated accordingly. In some states, noneconomic damages have been capped.
Many factors are at play in this system and different perspectives are involved. The two main players in this complicated system are 1) physicians and health care providers and 2) patients and their lawyers. The agendas of these two groups differ in important ways, which makes it difficult for the government to create a common solution on how to best protect patients.
Physicians want medical errors to be reduced, but greatly fear being sued — and for a good reason. More than one third of physicians have had a lawsuit filed against them. Therefore, physicians take certain precautions, including practicing defensive medicine (such as running extra tests or having patients spend extra time in the hospital) to help defend against any accusation of malpractice. Although counterintuitive, the practice of defensive medicine does not favor patients, as it increases their chance of contracting an iatrogenic disease. Therefore, while the ability for physicians to be sued allows the injured patient to seek fair compensation, it does not necessarily aid in patients being protected from injury in the first place.
The facts above suggest that making it more difficult to file lawsuits against physicians may actually be beneficial in protecting patients from injury. However, it is necessary to consider the view of those patients who are injured and their families. The victims of malpractice deserve to be compensated fairly and this means filing malpractice suits.
There is an argument that many malpractice lawsuits are “frivolous” and are simply consuming resources that could be used to provide better and less expensive healthcare. However, according to a 2006 study done by the New England School of Medicine, only three percent of claims filed involved no negative effects for the patient. A law firm does not have any incentive to back a “frivolous” case because there will likely not be an adequate payout. Additionally, there is inadequate evidence that healthcare would be less expensive. The argument is that the cost of physicians having to purchase expensive medical malpractice liability insurance leads to higher healthcare costs for patients. However, in states where damage caps are enacted, there have not been significant changes in insurance rates, and the caps negatively affect the ability of those who truly deserve compensation to receive it.
Having considered the viewpoints of both physicians and patients, it can now be determined how the government fits into the equation to best protect patients from injury. To summarize all of the above arguments, the following points need to be considered:
- The threat of being sued leads physicians to practice defensive medicine, which increases the patient’s risk of harm — how can the government alleviate this threat to the physician so they don’t feel the need to practice defensive medicine, but still deter medical errors?
- Victims deserve to be compensated — how can the government ensure this happens without victims having to face extraordinary hurdles or unfair caps, and how can “frivolous” cases be deterred?
There are a couple of courses of action the government should take to increase patient safety. The first would be to enact an enterprise-liability system. In this type of system, the healthcare corporation would be liable for medical errors, not the physicians. An enterprise-liability system would address the two issues discussed above. 1) It would alleviate the threat of being sued that physicians face, so they wouldn’t feel the need to practice defensive medicine. However, the physicians would still be held accountable for their actions by the healthcare corporation. The corporation would not want to be sued, so it has a great incentive to reduce medical errors by educating (or in the worst cases removing) subpar physicians. Also, the corporation would have an incentive to identify and remove systematic issues that result in medical errors. 2) Patients could file a lawsuit against the health corporation to receive compensation. This compensation would likely be more predictable and uniform than in the current system in which individual physicians are sued. In a enterprise-liability system, there is only one possible defendant (the healthcare corporation), so the corporation would likely become familiar with different types of cases and be able to judge more quickly and accurately which ones have merit. Valid claims might be settled more often because an individual physician does not have their reputation and career on the line. This would benefit those who really were deserving of compensation.
Unfortunately, it is likely impossible to prevent all medical errors, and some healthcare corporations will always be more competent than others — which leads to the second and most important course of action the government should take: requiring all hospitals to publicly release statistics on their medical errors. Every prospective patient deserves to understand the risk they are putting themselves in when entering a hospital. Releasing statistics publically would also incentivize hospitals to reduce medical errors, as hospitals with lower medical errors would likely have more business and lower rates for medical malpractice liability insurance.
The government has a duty to protect American citizens from medical malpractice. A system of enterprise-liability and requirements to increase hospital transparency about medical error statistics would provide the best incentives to prevent patient injuries and provide compensation to those who are wrongly injured.