Florida can take lead on medical lia bility
As a physician who has traveled the country speaking to my peers, I can tell you that doctors want to provide better patient care but are hindered by our inefficient system that drives a wedge between physicians and patients and leads to increasing health-care costs.
I was not surprised when a recent study found that $640 billion out of the country’s $2.4 trillion total healthcare costs are spent on medical tests, procedures or consultations of no clinical value. They are ordered merely to protect the prescribing physician from having an attorney attack the care as malpractice. It’s called “defensive medicine,” and it is a feardriven practice that on average costs each United States citizen $2,084 every year.
Reducing malpractice costs has been imperfectly addressed by malpractice “caps,” which reduce the total payment that attorneys can collect. However, physicians who have been burned by attorneys never want to return to the court room, regardless of the “cap,” and will continue to practice defensive medicine.
Patients should be paid for medical injuries, just as they should be paid when an injury occurs on the job. Adopting a similar approach to worker’s compensation in paying patients for medical injuries would reduce the exhaustion of litigation. More important, physicians no longer would seek the false security of protection in defensive medicine.
How can such a change occur, to the benefit of patients, physicians and our economy? In the next legislative session, Florida will have the opportunity to adopt a solution that works — a Patients’ Compensation System.
The Patients’ Compensation System focuses on the patient’s need for both prompt recognition of a medical injury and prompt payment. The doctor is not blamed for the injury, and in fact we may recognize and learn from our mistakes without being sued. This removes the wedge between patients and their physicians, allowing the doctors to choose the best health care for their patients.
Compensation under the Patients’ Compensation System would take 180 days, as opposed to the current system that can take up to five years, and there would be defined steps to ensure a seamless process and answer key questions:
» A patient advocate: How do I get my claim submitted?
» A medical review department: Is a medical injury present?
» An independent medical review panel: Is this an avoidable medical injury?
» A compensation department: What should be paid for the injury?
» An administrative law judge: Was the patient’s need and physician record reviewed properly?
» A quality improvement department: How do we reduce preventable medical injuries?
The new system’s patient benefits include access to justice for all patients; delivering more compensation to more patients faster; increasing patient safety; encouraging medical innovations; avoiding unnecessary tests; and providing more access to physicians — as additional part-time physicians will practice medicine. Economic benefits include lowering health-care costs, lowering employer costs and creating more jobs, as well as decreased state and federal taxes.
Florida has the opportunity to take the leadership role in reducing the real driving force behind skyrocketing health-care costs, while extending patient care to compensate medically injured patients more quickly and compassionately.
J. James Rowsey, M.D., is a longstanding delegate of Florida Medical Association and board member of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology; he also recently served on U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s Medical Legislation team.