Is there too much medical malpractice litigation or is there too much medical malpractice?

In his book, "The Medical Malpractice Myth," Tom Baker seeks to answer the question whether there is too much medical malpractice litigation in the United States or whether there is too much medical malpractice. His answer may surprise you. Tom Baker examines every relevant study performed in the last thirty years on the issue of medical malpractice. Most of these studies were conducted by health care providers, including physicians, hospitals, and nurses. Based upon those studies and other data he has gathered on his own, Tom Baker concludes that there is an epidemic of medical malpractice in the United States. His figures are staggering. Doctors and hospitals injure about one out of every twenty-five hospital patients. Negligence is the cause of injury in about one of every four of those cases, meaning that one patient in every 100 is the victim of medical malpractice. Of note, more people are killed by medical malpractice than are killed by auto and workplace accidents combined. Other significant findings include:

* Compared to the amount of medical malpractice, there is very little medical malpractice litigation. The evidence shows that very few victims of medical malpractice actually file lawsuits. Data show that there are approximately seven proven medical malpractice injuries for every one medical malpractice case that is filed.

* The number of medical malpractice lawsuits is not growing. Similarly, the overall size of the lawsuit settlements and verdicts is not increasing, particualry once the rising medical care costs for treating medical malpractice victims is taken into account.

* Medical malpractice lawsuits and jury verdicts are not to blame for the recent medical malpractice insurance crisis. In reality, the culprit for the insurance crisis is the boom-and-bust cycle in the insurance industry that has been an inherent part of the insurance business for over a century.

* Medical malpractice lawsuits are not depriving Americans of access to health care. The evidence shows that the costs associated with medical malpractice litigation are less than 1% of the entire cost of the health care system.

* Medical malpractice lawsuits actually do good. An example of this is the American Society of Anesthesiologist's closed case study of all past medical malpractice claims filed involving anesthesia. This study led to significant changes in how anesthesia was practiced in the United States. For example, better anesthesia equipment was developed and new practice guidelines were implemented. The end result was better health care for patients and lower insurance premiums for anesthesiologists.

* Medical malpractice insurance premiums for health care providers is not as high as commonly reported. The average insurance premium paid per doctor is less than $12,000.
Michael J. Shevlin
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Specializing in medical malpractice and serious personal injury cases since 1994.
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