Medical Malpractice Law: Medical Cost Increases Not Related To Liability Lawsuits

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Medical costs over the last number of years have increased significantly. However, these significant increases are not related to medical malpractice lawsuits, but rather to other factors, such as the increase in injuries through medical errors and unjustified medical costs.

Rise In Medical Errors

The Institute of Medicine, in its seminal 1999 work "To Err Is Human," indicated that there were more than 100,000 deaths per year as a result of medical errors in hospitals in the United States. More recent studies have shown that there has been a dramatic increase to more than 180,000 deaths per year as a result of medical malpractice in U.S. hospitals, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An additional 1.4 million patients are seriously injured by hospital medical care.

This is an alarming statistic in our health care system, which will require vigilant and further action by the federal government through Medicare regulations. Obviously, these statistics are in large part causing an increase in medical costs.

These more recent studies are of great concern and demonstrate that hospitals must enforce more stringent safety precautions with their own staffs and attending physicians.

'Defensive Medicine'

Many physicians and insurance companies have claimed that the ordering of unnecessary tests — "defensive medicine" — is causing a significant rise in the cost of medical malpractice insurance.

This oft-cited canard is without foundation; no reliable scientific study supports that assertion. Quite to the contrary, any studies that have been done reveal that defensive medicine is a very small percentage of general medical costs throughout the U.S.

Dr. Darrell Kirch, the president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, recently gave a lecture indicating that the general assertion in reference to defensive medicine is not scientifically supported and that the cost of defensive medicine is in fact very small. Professor Thomas Baker, of the University of Pennsylvania, in his 2005 book, "The Medical Malpractice Myth,"also debunks the myth that defensive medicine is significant in driving up the cost of medical malpractice insurance in his chapter on "The Goods on Defensive Medicine."

It is important to note that when a physician orders a test through Medicare, that physician must certify to Medicare that the test (treatment, medication, equipment) is medically necessary for the patient's condition. How can a doctor claim he or she ordered an unnecessary test when they certify that the test is medically necessary? Studies have demonstrated that physicians who have a proprietary interest in a testing facility order more tests.

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