Articles Posted in Healthcare Reform

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

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Anthony Tarricone, President of the American Association for Justice, published a piece in the Huffington Post reminding the public to remember those who have fallen victim to medical error. This week is Patient Safety Awareness Week, which is an annual national education and awareness campaign. This year it is especially important because it falls in the midst of the recent health care debate. As those in Congress debate medical malpractice they must remember the 98,000 patients that die annually as a result of preventable medical error. Put a different way, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified medical errors as a category it would be the sixth leading cause of death in America.

Many Republicans have focused on the idea of tort reform as one of the major solutions to America’s health care problems. However, there has been a great deal of evidence that shows changing tort law would do nothing to lower costs or cover the uninsured. It should also be noted that the 98,000 people figure only includes those who died, and not those who were seriously injured by medical error. These extra numbers include a woman who had to have four amputations after a routine kidney stone surgery. The doctors had sent her home with no treatment and her kidney blockage caused a full body infection. This is just one of the many victims of medical error. While health reform is needed, it cannot be at the expense of victims. Contact your local Congressman and voice your support for patient awareness. To read more from the AAJ’s President’s post, please click the link.

The Republicans have come up with many ways to damage health care debate. They include letting families and business buy health insurance across state lines which would bring extra problems to the health care industry. However the GOP’s worst idea, and yet the one that might actually be implemented, is limiting a victim’s ability to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This idea, known as “tort reform,” has gained momentum with both President Obama and other Democrats.

The American Prospect reported that Republicans argue that by capping medical malpractice damages, doctors will practice less defensive medicine thus driving down health insurance costs. Yet if you examine states that do cap non-economic damages, you will see that there has not been a decrease in health care spending. In fact, per-patient health-care spending in the state of Texas has actually increased at a rate that is twice the national average. This happened after Texas decided to cap non-economic damages at $250,000.

Another argument posed by Republicans is that tort reform will decrease the amount of frivolous lawsuits. Yet the key question is whether there are that many frivolous lawsuits to begin with. Last year the CBO determined that 181,000 severe injuries or deaths were caused by medical error. Yet only 17 percent of those victims actually filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. That means that only one out of every six patients who are victims of medical malpractice actually files a lawsuit. Maybe health care reform should focus more on diminishing the number of victims injured by medical malpractice instead of looking to diminish the number of lawsuits. To learn more about tort reform, please click the link.

The American Association for Justice has spoken out about the constant struggle for health care reform. Currently the House of Representatives is debating whether or not to vote on the Senate passed health care bill. This means that if the House has a majority vote the Senate bill will become a law. The current version of the Senate bill allows for demonstration projects, but provides an absolute opt out clause for plaintiffs at any time. The AAJ finds demonstration objectionable but believes that the opt-out provision for all plaintiffs minimizes their concern.

In a recent letter to Congress, the President signaled openness to appropriating $50 million for additional medical malpractice projects, which would include health courts. This blog recently spoke to the dangers of implementing health courts. Most importantly these courts would take away a patient’s right to a jury trial, which is in direct opposition to the constitution. The AAJ believes that health courts open up the possibility of biased, one-sided proceedings, deny people their right to trial by jury, and serve as another expensive insurance company bureaucracy. Fortunately, the Senate language contains an opt-out provision which would allow victims to have the option of a civil jury trial. Please contact your Congressmen and voice your opposition for health courts.

Many people who support patient’s rights have been using twitter to voice their thoughts on the recent health care debate. This has become a great forum for those to voice their opinions. Many are discussing the 98,000 people who die every year from medical error. We need to ensure that Congress takes this number into account.

In the ever continuing medical malpractice and health care debate a new proposal has emerged. This involves what are being referred to as “health courts” which would force all medical malpractice cases out of the court system. While these courts promise faster, more reliable system of resolving medical malpractice claims, they do not paint all sides of the story.

The Pop Tort explained that health courts are a terrible, anti-patient and highly-controversial concept that has both consumer groups and victims of medical negligence strongly opposed to them. They force all medical malpractice cases into an administrative system based on the failing worker’s compensation model. However, this system would be even worse because patients would still have to prove a form of negligence and the decision-makers would come from the medical community. Immediately, the right to jury trial has become eliminated. Also, the courts would have few accountability mechanisms, few procedural safeguards and no meaningful appeals process. There may be a schedule of benefits and a severe cap on non-economic damages. Most importantly, these courts are unconstitutional. By taking away the right to a jury, these courts are in direct opposition to the constitution.

Ray De Lorenzi, a spokesman for the American Association for Justice, stated that health courts would involve a new expensive bureaucracy. Health courts would do nothing to eliminate the 98,000 people who die every year from preventable medical error. He told that fixing preventable medical errors, not creating new bureaucracies, is the right solution. To read more about health courts, please click the link.

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