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Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Still No Interest in Prevention

Most doctors in America will be sued at some point during their career.

 That is the lead-in phrase of a front page story in the August 18 issue of The Boston Globe reporting the findings of a Harvard study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Study of claims data for 41,000 physicians for the period 1991-2005 showed that 7.5 per cent of them were subjected to a malpractice claim each year and that 1.6 per cent had a claim leading to a financial settlement.

The article went on to quote various experts on the implications of these findings.  The threat to the doctor’s reputation was mentioned, as was the incentive to practice defensive medicine.  Comments included the benefits of doctors talking openly with their patients, making apologies as necessary and offering compensation when appropriate.  There was report of efforts to secure legislation making such conversations and apologies inadmissible in malpractice trials.  Laws are being sought that prescribe a vetting period before initiating a lawsuit, during which time there would be discussion and sharing of information between doctor and patient.

 At no point was there any discussion of prevention.  In each of the thousands of cases identified in the study, somebody for some reason felt sufficiently aggrieved by something that happened medically to go to the trouble of securing an attorney and filing suit, despite the heavy odds against winning any financial reward.  One would think there would be interest in trying to find out what might have been done to prevent the legal action being initiated.  And where there was a real medical error involved, an effort to see how it might have been avoided.

 There is great interest in promoting preventive measures when it comes to individual health, but great inhibition against probing into medical practices that cause patients to seek legal relief.

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