How To Tackle The Rising Costs Of Medical NegligenceBy Ernest Hamilton, UniversityHerald Reporter
The inflation of medical negligence costs is a huge concern affecting healthcare providers who are already burdened with rising costs. The ripple effect is borne by the patient, doctor and the insurance company.
While there is adequate evidence to prove the steadily rising costs to the healthcare industry, one major cause of concern is the number of medical malpractice suits being filed, with the corresponding settlements that are then sought and awarded. These settlements come out from a pool of liability insurance funds meant to cover hospitals and doctors, and they've been on a steady incline.
Ultimately, it's the patient who has to deal with these rising costs. This is a vicious cycle that has far-reaching impacts on each party involved, and it's time for governments to step up and understand how the increasing costs of medical negligence can be countered and lowered.
What is medical negligence or malpractice?
"Medical malpractice, or medical negligence, is a branch of personal injury law that describes a situation where a patient suffers an injury because his or her health care provider did not follow the accepted standard of care. In medical negligence cases, the standard of care is defined as the actions or measures that a reasonably careful health care provider would have taken under similar circumstances," according to SKG, medical negligence attorneys in Chicago,
Every time you visit your doctor, a part of the fee you pay goes towards medical negligence insurance that covers doctors or hospitals, in case they get embroiled in litigation. The cost of that insurance is a direct result of higher medical costs, since doctors charge their patients higher fees to pay for those insurance premiums. And while medical malpractice suits have become commonplace, both doctors and hospitals have to do whatever they can to bear this financial burden.
On the other hand, to avoid the possibility of falling into medical negligence lawsuits, doctors are now more prone to practice what has come to be known as defensive medicine. Here they prescribe numerous diagnostic tests, treatments, procedures and recommendations to other departments, primarily to cover themselves from any possible litigations issues, rather than to significantly advance the patient's treatment.
This obviously results in burgeoning medical costs, borne by the patient or the healthcare provider, which in some cases is the government. It is also becoming increasingly common for doctors to altogether avoid specializing in certain areas like neurosurgery and obstetrics where the risk of medical liability is high.
Legal fees only complicate matters. Lawyers who are known to take on medical malpractice cases charge fees that are usually a percentage of the settlement amount. This obviously pushes lawyers to fight for the highest possible settlement amount. Insurance companies are therefore charging sky-high premiums to encompass all these factors of medical negligence claims.
The burden of defensive medicine
A way of tackling this problem, and controlling it to an extent is to put in place requisite regulations when it comes to defensive medicine. More often than not, hospitals are absolved of any responsibility when it comes to medical negligence, with the physician taking the fall for any malpractice. Physicians may work in a hospital but they are hired as independent contractors, making them liable for their own decisions and actions. This is why most physicians take the 'defensive medicine' approach, in order to safeguard themselves as much as possible from chances of negligence.
If this burden of responsibility is shifted to the hospital, the incidence of unnecessary defensive medication will be reduced considerably, enabling a better control on avoidable expenses.
Limiting the period of filing medical negligence lawsuits
Lowering the statute of limitations should be considered. Different states have statutes of limitations ranging from two to six years, from the point of injury or discovery of injury to filing a lawsuit. Shortening this duration would limit malpractice claims.
Cap on legal fees and settlement claims
Capping legal fees is a move to be considered. While most cases usually reach a settlement, lawyers try to get the maximum value possible, combining economic costs, lost opportunity costs and future probable costs.
Also, with regard to settlement claims, juries must consider the extent of financial compensation, capping it at an equitable figure, especially a cap on awards for non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Eliminating joint and multiple liability claims is another area of consideration. At present, a doctor or hospital may be liable to pay the entire settlement amount, even though they may only be partly responsible for damages incurred. An introduction of the fair-share rule will restrict liability to the defendant's share of the responsibility.
A review and subsequent tightening of laws with regard to medical malpractice claims will have a positive effect on the healthcare industry. If stricter laws share accountability between all the parties involved, the healthcare industry could see a decline in its spending on negligence claims.