Check out this mind-boggling mess. It took 40 malpractice suits “by butchered patients” – that’s right, 40 lawsuits - for the New York State Department of Health to finally strip the license of cosmetic surgeon Dr. Robert Cattani, finally finding him to be an “imminent threat to the health and safety” of New Yorkers. An imminent threat. That’s what it takes these days for a state to revoke the license of an incompetent, even dangerous physician. Robert Danzi, an attorney who has represented a number of these patients, “cheered the revocation, but also blasted the Health Department for waiting too long to act.” Boy, I’ll say. In a way, I can see why the LA County DA filed murder charges against a doctor for deliberately prescribing powerful narcotic medications to addicts, rather than treating this as a medical malpractice case and waiting for state health officials to respond to the mayhem.
Medical errors, especially those committed by a small number of really bad doctors, is a costly epidemic in this country. You know those 40 lawsuits against Dr. Cattani? That’s nothing. The number of patients he injured is exponentially higher than that because only a small number of injured patients ever file lawsuits. And states are doing little about it. Heck, hospitals and their insurers are doing little about it even though they’re the ones paying the malpractice claims. How do we know all this?
All the answers can be found in the Center for Justice & Democracy’s new Briefing Book, Medical Malpractice: By the Numbers. This no-frills, 70-page document – nothing but statistics and key quotes, all fully sourced and footnoted - is a must read for anyone seeking information about these and many other medical malpractice and health care issues today. To give you a sense of what’s in this thing, here’s the Table of Contents. Enjoy.
PART 1: MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LITIGATION
- Few injured patients file claims or lawsuits; experts agree that when cases are filed, they are not “frivolous.”
- The number (“frequency”) and size (“severity”) of medical malpractice claims, lawsuits and inflation-adjusted payouts are low and dropping.
- A small number of doctors are responsible for most malpractice payouts; even the most incompetent physicians are rarely held accountable by state medical boards.
- Physicians greatly misperceive their risk of being sued.
- Successful plaintiffs receive far less than most people think – compensation is for serious injuries or death; high verdicts are almost always slashed; and punitive damages are extremely rare.
- Medical malpractice cases are not clogging the courts; strong cases settle.
- Lawsuits filed for medical negligence are not frivolous, yet it is still difficult for patients to prevail.
- Experts say that, even with its problems, the current medical malpractice system works.
- The best way to reduce malpractice litigation is to reduce the amount of malpractice.
PART 2: MEDICAL MALPRACTICE, HEALTH CARE COSTS AND “DEFENSIVE MEDICINE”
- Numerous studies have debunked the notion that health care costs can be saved by stripping away patients’ legal rights; “tort reform” has no impact on so-called defensive medicine.
- Studies establishing “defensive medicine” depend almost entirely on untrustworthy physician surveys, often conceived by lobby groups pushing “tort reform.”
- Defensive medicine and Medicare fraud.
- The real reason doctors order too many tests: profit.
PART 3: PHYSICIAN SUPPLY AND ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
- “Tort reform” in Texas has had no effect on physician supply.
- Many studies confirm that “tort reform” has had no effect on physician supply nationally.
- Lifestyle and age considerations are the most important factor for determining not only a doctor’s choice of location, but also his or her choice of specialty.
PART 4: MEDICAL MALPRACTICE INSURANCE
- Medical malpractice insurers have been incredibly profitable in recent years.
- Medical malpractice premiums have been dropping since 2006; inflation-adjusted, they are nearly the lowest they have been in over 30 years.
- Premiums have dropped irrespective of whether “tort reforms” have been enacted in any particular state.
- “Caps” do not lower insurance premiums for doctors.
- Industry insiders have repeatedly said that capping damages will not lower insurance rates.
- Strong insurance regulatory laws are the only way to control insurance rates for doctors and hospitals.
PART 5: PATIENT SAFETY
- Medical errors occur in alarming numbers and are extremely costly.
- Some hospital departments are particularly unsafe.
- The situation is far worse because major errors go unreported.
- Most patients worry about medical errors.
- Patient safety is suffering because so few injured patients sue.
- Litigation improves patient safety.
- “Fear of litigation” is not the main reason doctors fail to report errors.