Articles Posted in Healthcare Reform

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Much has been said about the impact of medical malpractice lawsuits on the increasing costs of healthcare. Although it has been disproven that medical lawsuit payouts are increasing (payouts for physician error have fallen every year since 2001) and that malpractice premiums are rising for physicians (they’re lower than they have been in years), many politicians and citizens are still pointing fingers at the legal system and calling for change. ProPublica, a public interest advocacy group, has begun to examine the true reasons why healthcare costs and insurance premiums for Americans are higher than ever. Among their findings: unjustifiably high administrative costs, high prices for treatment, over treatment, and medical supply waste, all said to be found at the hospital-level. Medical waste seems to be hardly discussed, but with constant talk of changing the Affordable Care Act and the need for controlling surging medical costs, medical experts have begun to speak up about the excessive amount of unused, perfectly good materials discarded from hospitals, physician offices, clinics, and medical centers in this country.

Medical Supply Waste: A Blessing and a Curse

In 2012, the National Academy of Medicine conducted a study that found that an estimated $765 billion a year was wasted on unused, unnecessary medical supplies and equipment. For a point of reference, the study authors noted that the amount of waste was more than the annual budget for the Department of Defense. It’s a jaw dropping fact to face and one that any hospital, nursing home, or clinic employee can attest to. Ultrasound machines, beds, walkers, and other equipment is discarded when newer models come out, or when something is considered a risk to patient safety or infection control. While the primary focus should always be the safety and health of patients, steps should be taken to address how hospitals can better manage their ordering and inventory in order to avoid waste at such an excessive level.

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“Kickstarter” is the popular crowdfunding site where individuals and organizations make calls for donations and support for various endeavors. The projects are widespread, often related to art, history, humanitarian issues, political proposals and more. For example, one Kickstarter project that recently made a call for support is that of a documentary focusing on the prevalence of medical errors and the need to act to tackle the problem. The Kickstarter funding page can be viewed here. On the page you can view a trailer for the project. The organizers have a goal of raising $25,000 for the endeavor. Right now a total of seventy seven backers have provided well over $8,000 toward that ultimate total.

The Wall of Silence

The project is referred to as “Breaking the Wall of Silence,” with a one sentence summary that states: “A film about the quest to break through healthcare’s wall of silence surrounding medical errors in order to improve patient safety.”

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A recent report published in the Journal of HealthCare Finance touched on a subject of obvious importance to our legal team: the intersection of economics and medical errors. In particular, the comprehensive research sought to examine the actual financial toll that healthcare quality problems take on national budgets. The full report can be found here.

Our med mal attorneys frequently push back against all of the false claims made about the connection between the civil justice system and healthcare costs. The obvious reality is that a focus on the healthcare system itself is required to truly tackle the rising healthcare financial burden. In particular, the wasted funds required as a result of medical errors is a good starting point to understand the changing priorities that are needed to truly address the human and monetary losses accrued as a result of inadequate medical quality.

The Economics of Medical Errors Study

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As outlined yesterday, medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors are not affected by tort reform laws. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is nothing to be done to lower them. In fact, many argue that insurance companies need to be reigned in with stricter rules to ensure that they are not bilking those who need their services. In fact, Illinois is often used as an example of the effects of insurance reform.

Illinois, Medical Malpractice, & Insurance Reform

The Center for Justice & Democracy discussed in its med mal briefing book how the Illinois case informs the reality of insurance reform.

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Money and medical care–a pairing that at once seems dangerous and unnecessary. But of course finances are intimately entwined with the health care that all of us receive when we need it. As the recent debates over national health care policy makes plain, community members are still deeply divided over the best course to take to ensure that all of the wheels in the operation–from doctors and drug manufacturers to insurance consumers and patients–are balanced to provide the best care to the most people at the lowest cost.

Unfortunately, the civil justice system is often unfairly added to the mix. That’s because there remains a mistaken notion (advanced by unsavory politics) that allowing fair access to the civil justice system following medical malpractice somehow greatly increases the cost of care. Time and again this has been proven obviously untrue. There very well are issues about paying for the care that we all need–but an actual solution is not found in curtailing the legal rights of former patients.

Medicaid & Money

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American Medical News is reporting on encouraging new developments in the battle to reduce medical errors by doctors and hospitals. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers have worked for decades to raise awareness of medical mistakes that should have been prevented. By assisting the patient victims and their families, we strive to ensure that the problems receive redress and medical professionals are encouraged to improve the quality of their care by ensuring that their errors are recognized.

Local Illinois doctors are now taking another step which may help to raise awareness of patient safety in another way. The University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago is planning to work on a three-year project to help evaluate whether the center’s medical error model (known as the “seven pillars” approach) is appropriate for other hospitals. Advocates for this type of approach explained that the model has allowed the identification of 56 cases of medical harm with 55 of them settled out of court.

Involved doctors hope that the effort will ultimately improve patient safety in more area locations, sharing, “We want to take what we’ve been doing for the last few years and try to roll it out to nine other hospitals in the Chicago area.”

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Many of our posts to this blog involve highlighting examples of medical malpractice. In that way we hope to raise awareness of the types of errors that occur, the prevalence of the problem, and the ways in which victims are able to seek redress for their suffering. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti also strive to encourage those who have fallen victim to take steps to report their concerns. It is only that way that we can truly send a message to hospitals and other medical professionals about the prevalence of medical errors and the urgent need to work toward their elimination.

A new story by Heart Newspapers affirms that need of better reporting of medical errors. After discussing the tragic death of a 47-year old man following a medication error, the story explains that the vast majority of hospitals in the area are still failing to properly report their medical errors. Not all hospitals are required to report their errors specifically. Even those that do report them, however, likely only include a fraction of the mistakes that actually take place.

One of the key problems of underreporting is the ineffective manner in which reporting systems are created. Generally, strange rules determine whether a certain mistake does or does not count as one which must be documented in the report. “Categories” are created that must be reported, and if an error does not fall into one of those specific categories, there is no reporting-regardless of whether the problem was just as much a preventable mistakes as others.

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With healthcare reform becoming the major legislative issue of the last year, it is surprising that more discussion has taken place regarding the prevention of medical errors that affect countless innocent patients each year.

The Times Union noticed the surprisingly inadequate steps taken to tackle the problem. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement found that nearly 200,000 people die each year from hospital mistakes that could be prevented and infections acquired while at hospitals. That staggering total suggests that hundreds of deaths every day could be prevented if only steps were taken to safeguard against these errors.

An initial step in tackling the crisis of medical errors involves collecting accurate data on the scope of the problem. However, Congress has yet again failed to require reporting of medical errors. Because of that, the problem remains hidden in the background of healthcare debates.

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Forbes recently profiled an amazing doctor who has spent his career working to improve medical care across the country. For two decades Dr. Harlan Kumholz has sought to measure the real- world effect of hospital care to better understand what parts of medical service are being ignored, what parts are working, and the processes that fail.

At first, Dr. Kumholz received very little support from the medical community. But his techniques were slowly perfected and his results were hard to ignore. For example, in 2004 he proved that two-third of all heart attack patients were not getting angioplasties within 90 minutes of arriving at the hospital as recommended. Those delays in providing the procedure-which reopens clogged arteries with a balloon tipped catheter-led to increase death from heart attacks.

The doctor was able to show that the delay in care was not the fault of ambulance time, but instead caused by delays in the time when the patient was actually in the hospital.

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According to the Washington Post, Democrats in Congress released the final version of the proposed healthcare legislation that the House is set to vote on this Sunday. President Obama is now working to secure enough votes to pass this legislation in Congress. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers were pleased to see that increased funding for medical malpractice reform initiatives was not included in the final version of the bill. Republicans have long pushed for medical malpractice reform, and the idea of increased spending on these initiatives was brought up again at the healthcare summit that took place last month.

Despite research that clearly shows that medical malpractice litigation does not drive up the cost of healthcare, proponents of tort reform still fight to limit the rights of patients who are injured or killed as a result of medical negligence. Healthcare reform should focus on ensuring that everyone has access to quality and affordable care, not on limiting patients’ rights. We must also focus on decreasing the number of medical mistakes from happening in the first place.

Until a final bill is passed, it is important to remain vocal about this issue. We encourage readers to contact their representatives to let them know that medical malpractice reform is not the answer, and that you do not support any measures to limit patients rights. Click on the link to contact your U.S. representative regarding medical malpractice reform.