CJ&D Briefing Book: Who Commits the Malpractice?

One reason that truly dangerous tort reform laws pass is because of the oversimplification of the arguments. Most community members have medical professionals who they admire and respect. Doctors and nurses are some of the most valued members of our society, working everyday to help others. When the medical profession is viewed in this way, it is easy to feel uneasy about medical malpractice lawsuits. After all, aren’t these suits simply attacking a community of medical professionals that most of us respect?

But of course, this completely distorts the details of the civil law and the proposed “reform” efforts. Believing that all professionals need to be held to basic reasonableness standards–including doctors, lawyers, accountants, and others–is not the same as “attacking” or demonizing any of those professionals. It is important to get past the oversimplified “us versus them” mentality. Instead, it is best to focus on discussing the specific issues at stake and remembering the entire purpose of legal access for fairness and accountability purposes.

Medical Malpractice Threat Overrated
Claims about “doctors under attack” simply do not mesh with reality. The fact is that most doctors will not have to make a medical malpractice payout in their career. In many ways the malpractice is concentrated among a small number of doctors. Even then, those dangerous doctors rarely face real accountability for the harm they cause.

For example, a Public Citizen analysis found that a clear majority of doctors (82%) had not made a single medical malpractice payment in the last seventeen years. That means that a small number of doctors have made the vast majority of payments. According to a few estimates, about 5.9% of doctors were responsible for nearly 58% of all medical malpractice payouts. Amazingly, it could be cut even more unequally. Only 1.1% of doctors were responsible for 20.2% of all payments. In other words, this is not some battle of “all doctors versus patients and lawyers.” It is a battle against unreasonable and dangerous care provided by certain physicians who continue to harm patients.

Little Accountability
Yet, while only a minority of doctors will ever make a payment for a mistake, an even smaller minority will ever be punished by disciplinary boards for their misconduct. A 2007 report found that of those who made two or more malpractice payments only 8.61% faced any sanction by their state medical board. What about those who made four or more malpractice payments–the chronic problem doctors? Even then only 14.75% were disciplined. Staggeringly, there are some doctors who have made ten or more malpractice payments. It would be logical to assume that those doctors were closely watched and held accountability by public officials charged with ensuring medical professionals were not harming patients. Were they? Not quite. Of that group less than one third faced any sanction at all.

We urge all those in Chicago, Illinois, and throughout the country to be informed about these issues, particularly in light of the elections occurring in a few months at all levels. Obviously there are many complex factors in all political debates, but, at the very least, it is crucial to make the decision on accurate information and not misleading distortions.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Family Tries to Challenge Constitutionality of California Malpractice Compensation Law

Medical Lobby Set to Make More Demands on Congress

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