Previously, I wrote about a dangerous development: a proposal by former Obama administration officials to give doctors immunity against malpractice lawsuits if they practice medicine according to government sanctioned guidelines. That would give the guideline writers enormous power to ration care.
Doctors would be able to escape the pain, agony, humiliation and costs of lawsuits, but only at a very heavy price: They would have to deny you the care their training and judgment tells them you need. They literally would be choosing between saving lives and curing diseases and the comfort of being able to avoid all the unpleasantness of litigation.
Fortunately there is a much better solution to the problem of malpractice and to the much wider problem of patient safety. I think of it as medicine without lawyers. Further, Florida may be the first state to try it out. More on that below.
As things now stand, the only way a victim of an adverse medical event can get compensation is by filing a lawsuit, enduring its trauma and discomfort, and trying to prove malpractice. Yet only 2 percent of victims of malpractice ever file a lawsuit. Fewer still ever receive any compensation. On the other hand, 37 percent of lawsuits filed involve no real malpractice. To add insult to injury, more than half the money spent on malpractice litigation goes to someone other than the victims and their families.
Despite this poor track record, the system imposes a heavy social costas much as $2,500 per household per year, including defensive medicine, at todays prices. And it may be making hospitals less safe than they otherwise would be.
The malpractice system distorts the incentives of doctors and hospitals by encouraging them to make malpractice events as rare as possible, even if they increase the number of other adverse events. As explained in our Health Affairs study, the system encourages doctors to order more blood tests and other procedures in order to reduce the risk of malpractice litigation, even though these procedures may put patients at additional risk.