I just came across a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about medical malpractice.

This article discloses an important truth about the medical malpractice system, which allows patients to seek redress after health care mistakes. The money that is paid out in medical malpractice claims is a very, very strong incentive for doctors and hospitals to improve their methods. Medical malpractice claims aren’t just reactive – they have a proactive effect on health care.

The Wall Street Journal article, “What the Doctor Missed: Using Malpractice Claims to Help Physicians Avoid Diagnostic Mistakes, Delays” by Laura Landro, looks specifically at diagnostic errors. We have all heard horror stories about doctors who have fallen asleep while performing surgery or been under the influence of drugs or alcohol while practicing. Diagnostic errors may be more subtle, but the results can be just as devastating. Think of the breast cancer victim who believes a lump is just a cyst, or the person with a rare blood disorder that dies with it undiagnosed because specialists didn’t share information. These aren’t cases of bad or evil doctors. They’ve probably saved the lives of many other patients. The problem is, when these doctors do slip up, there’s lives at stake.

Let me outline some of the key points of the article:

  1. Diagnostic errors are rampant and costly. Landro’s article reports that, according to studies of resolved claims, diagnostic errors make up 40 percent of malpractice cases, and cost an average of $300,000 to settle.
  2. Malpractice claims are a driving force behind the development of new diagnostic methods, equipment and tracking systems. Doctors are looking into any effective means for identifying potential problems and carefully following up with patients. Some are trying electronic alerts, while others are using checklists to follow tried and true methodology.
  3. Mistakes in diagnosis are far too frequent, and reflect core problems in our health-care system. Primary-care doctors are overloaded with patients and paperwork. Test results are lost. Follow-up exams aren’t ordered. It’s discouraging, but Landro points out that hospitals and insurance companies are pressing for improvements because they don’t want to face frequent claims.

When you hear someone complain or theorize that malpractice claims are driving up the cost of health care, think about the efficiencies and improvements our system has brought about.

Medical malpractice claims can be good for medicine, good for the patients that rely and trust in their physicians, and good for the doctors who need reliable systems of managing and tracking an unbelievable amount of patient information.

Thanks for reading,

Christina Sonsire

NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, New York 14902-1338
Office: 607.733.8866
Toll-Free: 800.ZIFFLAW (943.3529)
Web: zifflaw.com
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