I have “public insurance,” that is Medicaid, because I am poor. I am poor because of the existing malpractice situation. Before you change the malpractice and Medicaid laws, you should read what I’ve learned.
My doctor was incompetent. One doctor described her as “significantly below incompetent,” another simply snorted in disgust when she heard my doctor’s name. Under existing regulations, doctors are supposed to report their colleagues who are damaging patients. They don’t do it.
The first place you start to fix the malpractice crisis is by getting doctors to put the welfare of their patients ahead of the welfare of their colleagues. If they want their malpractice insurance to go down, they should start by getting their bad-practicing colleagues out of the field.
The Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) is the place you go to file a complaint against a doctor. Very few people know that. Make it high profile. Put the name, address and phone number of the OPMC on every treatment room wall, medical release form and insurance claim. Instead of making medical error a million-dollar business in the courts, make it a licensing matter in the education system.
Hold doctors accountable; they do not exist above the law. Retrain doctors who don’t know what they’re doing, send the drunks and druggies to rehab, and put the significantly incompetent out of business. The way to lower malpractice settlements is to fix doctors before they make enormously actionable errors.
In one year, in Onondaga County, about 7000 complaints were filed against doctors; 6,600 of them were dismissed, with the county medical association president saying they were frivolous. Six thousand six hundred people do not file frivolous claims. In the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, nurses are the investigators and doctors are the judges. Put consumers with normal sensibilities and normal expectations into the system. Stop letting doctors judge themselves; they give themselves a pass every time.
My doctor prescribed medication and did not monitor it, resulting in permanent kidney damage to me. The doctors I saw for treatment of the disease covered up the fact that it had been caused by the doctor prescribing the drug. Look at the motivations here, and figure out an incentive to make it more worthwhile for a doctor to report a damaging colleague than to protect him or her.
Mistakes don’t just happen; they have causes. Instead of looking for someone to blame, look for something to fix. What caused the doctor to do wrong? Like the National Transportation and Safety Board, create an investigation unit to discover causes. Fix the problem instead of placing the blame.
It took me two years to figure out that the doctor had caused my kidney damage. At that time, the statute of limitations on malpractice was three years. In the remaining year, I could not find a lawyer to take the case (it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than you know). One lawyer from a large legal firm refused to take the case, saying, “This would only settle for about $70,000 and, frankly, we were hunting for a windfall.”
The treatments for my kidney damage and other illnesses resulting from the chemical assault have now cost the taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars—and you get to keep paying.
If you limit malpractice suits, you put the burden of medical payments on the taxpayer. Instead of the doctor paying, you pay. You might want to think about that before you cast your next vote.
The statute of limitations in New York State has already been reduced from three years to two and a half. Why? Why have we let legislatures and lobbies decide that doctors do not have to be accountable for the things they do wrong? Why is there any limit at all? I don’t get to walk away from my sickness after two or three years—why does the doctor get to walk away from responsibility? She was incompetent and you let her keep practicing! She was still practicing medicine when she died two years ago. Do you know how many more people she hurt? Lots.
Stop making malpractice so profitable for lawyers, and make it available to the indigent. I could not get a lawyer because I was poor; I was poor because the damage made me too sick to work. In New York State, you have to prove loss of future income in order to win a malpractice suit. If you already have been so badly damaged that you are not working, you can’t sue.
Legal Aid, i.e., lawyers paid by the government to serve the poor, legally cannot take malpractice cases because they are considered profit making. Malpractice cases are not a profit making business. They serve two purposes: paying for real medical expenses, and punishing doctors. Make the punishment professional, not financial, and let lawyers for the poor sue for malpractice. By doing so, they will be transferring the cost of medical expenses from the taxpayer to the doctor, where they belong.
Most of the people I know who have been damaged would settle for real expenses, $5000 and the doctor’s head, instead of $14 million dollars. Doctors do not suddenly make one disastrous mistake; they show a pattern of failure to perform properly long before they get the big malpractice suit.
Stop dismissing patient’s complaints as frivolous nuisances and start to deal with them for what they are: distant early warning signs of a doctor gone bad. Reduce malpractice settlements by dealing with doctors when patients first start filing complaints against them and you will reduce malpractice settlements.