Doctors Say Malpractice System Is Better But Needs More Work

In a new assessment of the state of medical malpractice, the American College of Physicians (ACP) said that although the cost of liability insurance has leveled off, doctors still “fear litigation” and “expect lawsuits.”

Molly Cooke, MD, FACP, president of ACO, also said that physicians feel “the psychological burden of navigating the complex medico-legal system.”

Malpractice claims can be exhausting and expensive. A medical liability claims may take years to be decided, and verdicts and award amounts may hinge on the laws and legal climate of the state in which they are filed.

A 2003 ACP policy paper was published at the time of a medical liability crisis prompted by an increase in awards and court costs. Those factors made insurance fees jump to historically high levels.

The  newest report – "Medical Liability Reform — Innovative Solutions for a New Health Care System" – notes that although medical liability reforms don’t have much chance of making it through Congress, there are some state laws that establish caps on non-economic damages and have statutes of limitations.

"Perhaps more promising is the testing of innovative liability protection models, such as health courts, enterprise liability, safe harbor protections, and disclosure laws, which seek to break through the political impasse and create a system that encourages the prevention of errors, improved patient safety, and timely resolution of legitimate claims," Cooke noted. "Both proponents and opponents of tort reform must realize that…fear of liability undermines the patient-physician relationship."

"While preventing errors should remain the paramount goal, these reforms may help lessen physician's liability fears while ensuring that patients are adequately and fairly compensated for any errors that do occur," Cooke continued. "Promising strides have been made since ACP's last position paper on medical liability was released in 2003."


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