Don Parsons MD: We need a better system
Dr. David Gray has communicated frequently to SDN and elsewhere in Summit County about the adverse economic consequences of our current medical malpractice tort system due to doctors’ practice style conditioned by fear of lawsuit. (SDN letter of Aug. 22). I have never heard him mention the unfairness to negligently injured patients and families.
Dr. Gray is an outstanding physician, and his opinion is unassailable. We have a lousy system. It is unfair to medical care providers who bear the threat of lawsuit each time they encounter a patient. It is equally unfair to patients who suffer bad outcomes due to physician negligence because of fatigue, ignorance, poor judgment, lack of expertise, technical error, and other preventable causes.
Multiple studies suggest that only about 5 percent of negligently injured patients sue. Other patients with bad outcomes but no negligent treatment sue because of anger, poor communication, financial devastation, etc. These lawsuits are sometimes termed “frivolous” and should be screened before proceeding to adversarial litigation.
In states with tort reform statutes that limit the collection of “non-economic” damages (pain, suffering, loss of consortium, etc.), such as California with a $250,000 cap, very few lawsuits are filed because attorneys cannot expect to recover their costs except in mega cases. The devastated patients and their sometimes surviving families are left with long-term emotional wounds that never heal due to their anger, frustration, guilt and bitterness
As the “healing profession”, we physicians should advocate for a better system that provides for both: fair treatment of doctors; and reasonable financial compensation for negligently injured patients. We need a system that allows doctors (and other health care providers) to say “I’m sorry,” to honestly communicate with their patients, a system that promotes the healing of the deep emotional wounds borne by both patients and the doctors themselves.
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