The State of Malpractice In The US Today

Malpractice, particularly medical malpractice, is a growing concern in the U.S. that is costing the country billions of dollars every year.

Malpractice refers to negligence or incompetence on the part of a professional. Most often it is associated with medical services, however any white-collar or specialized professional can be held accountable for malpractice.

It’s an issue the experts at Siegfried & Jensen deal with on a daily basis. As malpractice specialists they are well aware that negligence can lead to costly mistakes that ruin people’s lives. Attorney Ned P. Siegfried says it can only be improved by keeping the public informed.

The latest malpractice statistics are startling. Recent findings have led to a number of dramatic legal and medical changes that are meant to give people better protection.

Startling Malpractice Statistics in American Health Care

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that medical malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. Approximately 200,000 people a year die from medical mistakes. However, a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety stated deaths resulting from poor medical care could actually be as high as 210,000-440,000 a year.

In 2012 a medical malpractice payout was made every 43 seconds. This is despite the fact that studies have shown as many as 96% of patients affected by medical malpractice never file a lawsuit.

malpractice lawsuits end in courtAnnual medical malpractice costs are well into the billions. However, a study published in the Journal of Health Care Finance estimated that the actual economic impact of medical errors is close to $1 trillion a year when quality-adjusted life years for those that die are weighed.

Healthgrades Sixth Annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study found that 40,000 medical errors happen every day.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a 2011 study that stated each year 1 in 14 doctors are faced with a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Ironically, research has found that measures taken to prevent lawsuits can increase the cost of medical malpractice. Researchers from Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed $55.6 billion in medical malpractice costs and found $45.6 billion was due to “defensive medicine.” These unnecessary treatments and tests are given to avoid lawsuits, but they don’t prevent medical malpractice and often make health care less efficient.

Legal Changes That Are Offering More Protection

Lawmakers are hoping to change the negative trends by giving people more ways to protect themselves against malpractice and hold professionals accountable.

One of the most notable changes in the last few years was the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning the “Barbetta ruling.” This decision made it so that cruise ships are no longer exempt from medical malpractice lawsuits. Before the decision, cruise ships had virtually no liability even when there were clear signs of gross negligence.

Another big move on the government’s part is the way they assess a hospital’s performance in relation to a value-based purchasing program for Medicare. As of 2014, four patient safety measures based on the AHRQ Patient Safety Indicators are now used to calculate a hospital’s performance score. The goal is to reduce medical errors and in turn improve the quality of care that patients receive.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also developed a $70 billion 10-year plan with the goal of reducing hospital-acquired infections.

The Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system that was established in the Affordable Care Act is another measure that is being implemented to reduce medical errors. Previously there was no standard for creating electronic medical records that could be accessed by health care providers. This alone can help reduce potentially disastrous problems such as medication errors and delayed diagnosis.

Some experts have stated that tort reform on the federal level is needed to solve these issues. Several states, including Texas and California, have passed their own reform measures, but doing the same on the federal level has failed numerous times over the last four decades. Doctors have argued that if they had better protection from potential lawsuits they would be more open to changing procedures and practices.

The general consensus is that solving malpractice issues is going to take a collaborative effort that involves doctors, patients and the government.

Bryce Dalziel
Bryce Dalziel is a business, gadgets and ecommerce writer who gets some of his best ideas when going out for a morning run.