Serious Medical Errors Go Unpunished

A recent study has found that many of the serious incidents of medical malpractice and negligence go unreported, even when physicians are aware that they should be reporting such violations. A survey of 1,600 doctors showed that 46 percent had witnessed “serious” medical errors by their colleagues without reporting them, even though 93 percent said they realized they should report such malpractice.

Part of the problem stems from an unspoken rule in the medical profession against reporting a fellow physician. The problem is compounded by physicians on disciplinary committees who tend to give colleagues leniency in disciplinary proceedings. Further, consumers are left in the dark in most states as only 16 states report malpractice payouts made by doctors on public websites. Additionally, even when the disciplinary system works, it routinely takes three years to resolve a complaint, allowing these physicians to continue practicing. One doctor even continued to see patients after settling three malpractice cases in five years, including one involving a wrongful death.

Given the lack of oversight from the medical community, there appears to be a greater need for outside regulation. Litigation is an effective way to put physicians on notice that they are subject to discipline if they are negligent. This raises concerns over tort reform, because limiting recovery for wronged patients will only make oversight more challenging and less effective. As the medical community is unwilling to police itself, restricting the rights of patients and attorneys to discipline incompetent physicians through tort reform will only increase the incidents of unreported serious medical errors.

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