TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What Oklahoma Doctors Think, Sort Of

I was pleased to see the Oklahoma Alliance of Physicians for Tort Reform post the actual questions and methodology used for its tort reform survey, especially since they do rely upon it in editorials and the like.

But I can't say I'm overwhelmed by the survey.  The opening paragraphs tell the recipients on whose behalf the survey is being completed:

Physicians are frequently asked by the media and patients for accurate numbers that describe the effects of medical liability on our practices.  The Oklahoma Alliance of Physicians for Tort Reform requests that you fill out this short questionnaire which we are distributing to Oklahoma physicians.  The results will be collected, and if a sufficient number of responses can be obtained, it will be used to help inform legislators, media and the public.

And the questions suggest the hoped-for (or at least expected) answer rather enthusiastically ('Do you practice “defensive medicine”?  [More testing, referring, or visits than necessary because of the threat of lawsuit.]")

It's certainly still of concern that 87% of doctors answered "yes" to the defensive medicine question.  And the response rate isn't bad (775 out of 8.327).  But it's still a pretty good distance from answering the questions definitively.

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Aside from the obvious problem of having a survey that so clearly suggests the desired outcome, I have some additional questions about the usefulness of this survey as anything other than a propaganda tool for proponents of tort reform.

First, as with any survey, all of the answers are self-reported and backed with no supporting evidence. This is especially problematic considering the respondents have a specific interest in a particular outcome of the data.

Second, even granting that the answers are all correct, one could easily come to the conclusion based on this survey that there is a serious problem, not with malpractice law, but with medical incompetence and a lack of professionalism among physicians.

63% of respondents claim to have been sued for malpractice. How many of those suits went to trial? How many resulted in a settlement? How many resulted in a plaintiff's verdict? We don't know anything about the facts in these suits, so how are we supposed to draw any conclusions other than "it seems like a lot of doctors are getting sued".

Furthermore, if respondents are cutting services to avoid malpractice suits, what does that say about the respondents' faith in their ability to perform? Are doctors who are cutting back on certain procedures doing so because they know they are not qualified to perform them?

The assumption seems to be that if there are a lot of lawsuits, something must be wrong with the legal system. Doesn't it make more sense to suspect that something is wrong with the state of the medical profession? Or is "there are too many similar cases" now a defense to habitual offense? Isn't that just rewarding bad behavior?

As far as I can tell, this survey is useless; it only serves to perpetuate confusion about the issues involved. You know, it would be nice, for once, to have an honest discussion about serious issues in this country.

By the way, I am not an attorney.

Posted by: Seth | Apr 17, 2006 10:33:07 AM

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