The American Association for Justice (AAJ) listed a wide variety of ways in which our country would be much worse off if there were no civil justice system in a recent article. We are detailing some of the ways in which health care would be affected if there were no civil justice system. Since medical malpractice law is a part of the civil justice system, eliminating that system would eliminate any recourse patients or their families have when they are hurt by medical professionals. For example, if you or your loved one contracted a severe infection in a hospital due to a hospital’s error, you would have no way of making the hospital pay for your increased medical bills.
The AAJ report tells the story of Dickson Clark. Clark had back surgery in Nevada in 2005, and wound up infected with MRSA in the hospital. MRSA, which can be lethal, is a type of staph infection that is drug resistant. As a result if the MRSA infection, Clark suffered through four years of hospitalizations and surgeries, not to mention further infections. Clark died in 2010. And Clark is not alone. According to AAJ, two million hospital patients get infections each year, and as many as 90,000 of them die. These numbers are WITH a civil justice system in place.
Of course, there will likely always be some infections. Mistakes will always be made. But even without mistakes, there are a lot of ill people in hospitals and a lot of patients with compromised immune systems. But a hospital’s goal should be to minimize these infections.
The Economic Toll
From an economic perspective, the threat of malpractice suits is necessary to encourage hospitals to take measures to prevent these infections. Preventing infections requires training personnel and enforcing policies on things like hand-washing. It also requires researching possible new methods of decreasing infections. All of those things cost money. Unless failing to act to reduce infections costs more than acting to reduce infections, medical providers will not act to prevent infection.
It is important to encourage further action to decrease the number of infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a survey of infections at a large number of acute care hospitals across the United States. The agency found that on any given day, one out of every twenty-five patients in these hospitals has at least one healthcare-associated infection. In 2011, 75,000 hospital patients with these infections died during their hospitalizations. Now, some of those patients were in intensive care and may have died regardless of the infection, but over half of the infections occur outside of intensive care units. So we are not just talking about particularly susceptible patients. These infections can include pneumonia, gastrointestinal illness, urinary tract infections, primary bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, and other types of infections.
The number of infections is already staggering. If the threat of malpractice verdicts were removed, hospitals would have no incentive to do the work they are already doing to prevent infections, so this number would climb. Instead of one out of twenty-five, it could climb as high as one in ten, or worse. This is just one of the reasons why our civil justice system is vital to protect our health and well being.
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