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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ezra Klein on Medical Malpractice

Ezra Klein has a great piece posted on Slate.com concerning medical malpractice and the two different ways the political parties claim they plan to solve the problem.  Here is a brief excerpt:

The Republican answer to runaway health-care spending is to cap jury awards in medical malpractice suits. For the fifth time in four years, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist tried and failed to cap awards at $250,000 during his self-proclaimed "Health Care Week" in May. But this time, the Democrats put a better idea on the table.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also want to save on health care. But rather than capping jury awards, they hope to cut the number of medical malpractice cases by reducing medical errors, as they explain in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In other words, to the Republicans, suits and payouts are the ill. To the Democrats, the problem is a slew of medical injuries of which the suits are a symptom. The latest evidence shows the Democrats' diagnosis to be right.

He continues by praising Professor Tom Baker's book, "The Medical Malpractice Myth."  Mr. Klein states,

The best attempt to synthesize the academic literature on medical malpractice is Tom Baker's The Medical Malpractice Myth, published last November. Baker, a law professor at the University of Connecticut who studies insurance, argues that the hype about medical malpractice suits is "urban legend mixed with the occasional true story, supported by selective references to academic studies." After all, including legal fees, insurance costs, and payouts, the cost of the suits comes to less than one-half of 1 percent of health-care spending. If anything, there are fewer lawsuits than would be expected, and far more injuries than we usually imagine.

As proof, Baker marshals an overwhelming array of research. The most impressive and comprehensive study is by the Harvard Medical Practice released in 1990. The Harvard researchers took a huge sample of 31,000 medical records, dating from the mid-1980s, and had them evaluated by practicing doctors and nurses, the professionals most likely to be sympathetic to the demands of the doctor's office and operating room. The records went through multiple rounds of evaluation, and a finding of negligence was made only if two doctors, working independently, separately reached that conclusion. Even with this conservative methodology, the study found that doctors were injuring one out of every 25 patients—and that only 4 percent of these injured patients sued.

The entire piece provides a terrific overview of where various political parties and others stand on medical malpractice and how to reduce medical errors.  Kudos to Professor Baker for his excellent book.  [bm]

 

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