There is no question that medical malpractice is a serious problem in the American healthcare system. It is alarming that so many instances of medical negligence occur on a daily basis. What is even more alarming, however, is the fact that it seems nothing is being done to address these issues.
Discussion and action related to reform seems to be almost non-existent. All the while, patients are suffering horrible injuries due to preventable negligence. This begs the question of why so little is being done. One explanation could be the fact that a small percentage of doctors seem to be responsible for a large number of malpractice claims.
Medical Malpractice Doctor-Claim Ratio
New research discussed in The New York Times suggest that around two percent of doctors in the United States account for around 39 percent of all medical malpractice claims. It is well documented that certain specializations of doctors are more likely to be subject to a medical malpractice claim. For example, higher risk specialties, such as:
- Emergency Medicine
Research also indicates that the doctors most likely to be sued are men around the age of 40. Perhaps the most alarming trend is that of the doctors with the most malpractice claims, 90 percent of them were still practicing when researchers followed up.
Is the Medical Malpractice System Broken?
There are medical malpractice laws and guidelines in place, but the system may be broken. Too often, doctors who harm patients are not punished, or skirt the system. Doctors who are the subject of medical malpractice claims tend to:
- Move to a different state for a “fresh start”
- Open solo practices where there is less oversight
- Move to smaller practices where they can fly under the radar
These strategies allow doctors to continue practicing medicine, and in many cases, continue to harm patients. Their location and patient demographic may change, but the results are the same. Patients are harmed by doctors who should not be practicing at all.
Not only is there less oversight in private practices than in hospitals, but there are also no employers or supervisors to check background, practice history, and lawsuit information. Doctors with a history of malpractice claims can essentially practice on their own without having to inform patients about any less-than-savory claims.
What about the Standards of Care?
The medical malpractice system has laws and standards of care in place to protect patients. Doctors are required to meet these standards and can be punished if they do not. However, research has found that the threat of sanctions for violating the standards of care does not seem to be improving the quality of care.
Because troublesome doctors fly under the radar, the agencies that have the power to sanction doctors often do not have enough information to recognize dangerous patterns or a history of malpractice claims. This is especially true among doctors who move to a different state.
Medical boards also have a tendency to look at malpractice claims in terms of particular incidents, rather than looking at the history of claims a particular doctor may have. There are legitimate legal reasons why this happens, but it does little to address concerns about quality of care.
What Patients Can Do about Medical Malpractice
As a patient, you have the right to care that meets accepted standards. If you are ever concerned about the level or quality of care you are receiving, you can do the following:
- Get a second opinion from another doctor.
- Do some research on your current doctor and see if you can find out if he or she has a history of malpractice claims or medical board sanctions.
- Contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your situation.
Many people are hesitant to take action against a doctor, even if the doctor was grossly negligent. It is natural to want to trust the people who are there to help us. However, it is important that you report any negligence or wrongdoing. In doing so, you can identify a potentially dangerous doctor, and possible save the lives of others.
Because medical malpractice is such a complex legal matter, contacting a medical malpractice attorney is advisable before taking any action. A skilled medical malpractice attorney, like those at Brown, Christie & Green, can help you protect your legal rights and discover the best options to protect your health and wellbeing.