Op-Ed Piece in the

The Tennessean was kind enough to publish an op-ed piece I wrote. Here is the full article from today’s paper.

Health-care industry sells snake oil about malpractice

By JOHN A. DAY

Tennessee’s health-care industry has launched yet another assault on patients’ rights, seeking once again to limit its financial responsibility for harm and death caused to patients by negligent acts and omissions.

For three decades, the industry has claimed that it needs special treatment in the eyes of the law so it could have lower malpractice insurance rates. Now, faced with overwhelming evidence that restricting the rights of injured patients have little, if any, effect on those rates, the industry has gone to “Plan B.”

What is Plan B? Well, the industry now says it deserves special treatment because current law affects “access” to health care. That’s right: They attempt to argue that if doctors and hospitals in Nashville get special treatment, there will be more doctors and hospitals in rural areas.

The industry press release gave these statistics to support its desire for a new set of laws that will further protect the industry: “81 of 95 counties have no residing neurosurgeon in patient care, 49 counties are without a residing orthopedic surgeon in patient care, 47 have no emergency physician, and 42 don’t have a residing obstetrician/gynecologist.”

Scary, isn’t it? But before you agree to give away your rights, consider these facts and the implications of what the industry is saying.

It is true many rural counties do not have the full spectrum of medical specialists that you would expect to find in the big cities of our state. For example, Moore County, home to Lynchburg and 6,000 Tennesseans, does not have any medical specialists. Of course, it does not have a hospital either.

Should we build a hospital and have a team of highly trained medical specialists in Moore County, Tenn., when there is a hospital in Tullahoma just 5 miles away? Its emergency room has around-the-clock care and sees 17,000 patients a year. It has 75 doctors, six of whom practice obstetrics and gynecology, two of whom are neurosurgeons, and two of whom are orthopedic surgeons. A sick person in Lynchburg can be at a hospital quicker than a sick person living in the Shelby Park neighborhood of Nashville.

Not enough doctors in Tullahoma? Folks in Moore County can also go 19 miles away to Winchester. The Southern Tennessee Medical Center there has five doctors who deliver babies and four orthopedic surgeons. It also has a 24-hour emergency room. And just 26 miles south of Lynchburg is a hospital in Fayetteville that has three doctors who deliver more than 300 babies per year. The hospital also has two orthopedic surgeons and a fully staffed emergency room.

The 11,500 people in Lewis County do not have high-end medical specialists in the county and do not have a hospital where these specialists could work. Fortunately for them, just 33 miles away is Maury Regional Hospital, with 165 physicians. That facility has over 1,600 baby deliveries a year and has seven orthopedic surgeons and nine emergency room doctors.

There are similar examples across the state: small, rural counties that lack the population and facilities to attract highly trained specialists to set up a practice. That fact has nothing to do with the legal system; it has everything to do with economics and common sense. Neurosurgeons, obstetricians, orthopedic surgeons and emergency doctors need hospitals, and they need to have a team of nurses to help deliver care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This is an expensive proposition, and a hospital must have a sufficient number of patients in each specialty to justify such services.

The health-care industry is engaging in the politics of fear in an effort to save itself money. To do so, it passes out statistics that even if accurate make no sense whatsoever. In a state that has all too few dollars to spend on health care, we simply cannot afford to build a high-tech hospital in each of our 95 counties and staff it with a team of specialists. Also, the industry makes no attempt to prove how reducing accountability for doctors in Nashville and the other big cities will cause medical specialists to move to small communities with no hospitals or hospitals that provide a small range of services.

Doctors and hospitals have more special protections from liability than any other industry or profession in this state. They have not proven that they are entitled to receive even more special treatment. –