MEDICAL MALPRACTICE IS NOW THE THIRD LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN THE UNITED STATES
While President Trump and the newly elected Republican Congress clamor to enact restrictions on victim’s legal rights, including caps on damages, lost in their enthusiasm to protect big business, doctors and hospitals are reports that incidents of medical malpractice are at epidemic levels. In fact, it was recently reported that deaths from medical errors is now the third leading cause of death in the United States.These recent reports confirm decades of studies which confirm that the medical malpractice “crisis” is not a product of lawyers bringing frivolous lawsuits but rather is caused by the sheer amount of medical negligence that occurs in this country each year.
Faced with a growing number of malpractice lawsuits in the 1980s, the medical community in New York undertook an unbiased review of medical care provided by hospitals in New York, in an attempt to quantify the incidence of medical negligence each year. Much to their surprise, rather than affirming the notion that too many patients sue for malpractice, the results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study revealed that the amount of malpractice that occurs each year was actually dramatically higher than anyone anticipated. Based on a review of hospital records, the authors of the Harvard Study concluded that nearly100,000 patients were injured and more than 13,000 patients died as a result of malpractice in New York hospitals each year.
The conclusion of the study’s authors: “we do not now have a problem of too many claims; if anything, there are too few.” In fact only one claim was filed for every 16 incidents of malpractice. Likely, most victims of malpractice are unaware of the errors in their treatment and never even contact a lawyer.
While the results of the Harvard study were surprising, they have been confirmed repeatedly since then by numerous independent groups. Most recently, Johns Hopkins issued a report which concluded that more than 250,000 patients are killed by medical malpractice each year in the United States, making malpractice the third leading cause of death in the nation.
Obviously, this is not the time to enact measures that protect doctors and hospitals from being held accountable for their negligence. Such measures serve only to reward health care providers for their negligence. If anything, the rights of patients should be expanded, so that the civil justice system and being held accountable in a court of law can act as a deterrent to doctors and hospitals from acting carelessly.
More importantly, doctors, hospitals, and yes, even Congress, should look to the medical community itself to take measures to improve the quality of care in our country and to reduce the number of patients harmed by medical negligence each year, rather than expecting the victims to bear the cost of injury from malpractice themselves.