Sunday, January 02, 2005

Dispelling Myths About Malpractice

The November 29, 2004 issue of AHA News (the weekly newsletter of the American Hospital Association) carried an article entitled “Dispelling myths about our liability system” and authored by William R. Brody, M.D., President of Johns Hopkins University. The article had previously appeared in the Washington Post.

The five myths Dr. Brody undertook to dispel were:

- The medical malpractice crisis is someone else’s problem, not mine.
- We need to preserve the current legal system to guarantee a fair hearing and provide compensation for patients harmed by the health care system.
- The malpractice system is necessary to punish and remove incompetent health care providers.
- Malpractice costs are not a big deal – they amount to less than 2% of total health care costs.
- The current malpractice insurance system is in crisis because insurance companies are trying to cover losses from unwise financial investments made during the dot-com boom.

Readers of AHA News will judge for themselves how well Dr. Brody makes his case.

However, in presenting his arguments, Dr. Brody helps to perpetuate one of the most serious myths of all. As a sort of throw-away line in the discussion of his third myth, he says “Physicians, nurses, and other professionals want to provide quality care, but they are human and make mistakes.” The implication is that these things just happen and there is nothing to be done about it.

As is being shown with increasing frequency, that is simply not the case. When addressed as a system problem rather than one of fallible humans doing the best they can, the number of medical errors can be reduced markedly.

Dr. Brody would have made a valuable contribution if, instead of accepting the myth that medical errors are inevitable, he had included it as one to be dispelled.

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