Focusing On Patient Safety vs. Tort Reforms

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By Matt Gracey

Often in medicine’s tort-reform efforts, we get so focused on the politics of changing unfair laws that we lose sight of the low-hanging fruit.  How many dollars have gone into trying to convince the politicians to limit the number of lawsuits against doctors and hospitals?  How much progress have we really made, given that a bunch of states in the last year or two have overturned their caps on non-economic damages?   How many years have some great medical leaders spent rallying their peers to contribute money and time to their political action committees focused on changing our oftentimes-ridiculous court systems as it relates to complex medical cases?  Maybe it is time that we weigh these efforts against the results and against using those efforts toward other options for change, since obviously this “top down” approach is not working as well as we had hoped.

The bottom-up approach is to focus on patient safety. Maybe we should focus on the findings of the 2006 Health Grades Study showing that 54.9% of patients received the recommended care.  Maybe we should focus on the studies comparing a number of our medical-results measures to those in other parts of the world.  We just might find that serious efforts like those under way on so many fronts, such as those of the National Patient Safety Foundation, will prove more fruitful for lowering malpractice-insurance lawsuits in the future.  Certainly, doctors and hospitals working with doctors and hospitals toward change will probably be much more productive, more rewarding, saner, and maybe even more fun than doctors and hospitals continuing to work with politicians and expecting different results.