The Truth of Medical Malpractice Litigation

Health care providers and their insurance companies have managed to persuade all too many Americans that holding providers responsible for malpractice is a bad thing.  They also claim that the number  medical malpractice claims and payments are increasing.

I simply cannot respond to the first contention.  The idea of holding people and corporations responsible for their actions does not seem to be a bad thing.  

I can respond to the second point and, unlike the health care industry I will use facts.

The fact is that  the prevalence and cost of medical malpractice litigation were at their lowest levels on record in 2010, according to data released earlier this month by the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank and analyzed by Public Citizen.

In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of annual adverse events (and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths) attributable to medical mistakes, only 10,195 medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2010. To put this in perspective, the number of payments made in 2010 equaled only a little more than 1 percent of the number of Medicare patients that the Department of Health and Human Services estimates suffered serious, avoidable injuries that year — and that says nothing of the hundreds of thousands or millions of non-Medicare patients who suffered serious harms due to negligence.

This report from Public Citizen reveals that using inflation-adjusted dollars the money spent on medical malpractice payments is over 15% less today than it was in 1991.  In addition, the amount of medical malpractice payments as a percentage of total health care costs is almost one-half of what it was 20 years ago.

The problem with medical malpractice is medical malpractice.  It is not litigation holding those who commit medical malpractice accountable for their errors.