Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

In a recent survey published in the journal Health Affairs, Massachusetts researchers found that one-in-ten doctors have knowingly lied to a patient in the past year. The study also revealed that half of the doctors admittedly “described a patient’s prognosis in a more positive manner than warranted.” What is perhaps the most alarming statistic from the study, though, is that one- in-five doctors didn’t disclose a medical mistake out of fear of being sued for medical malpractice. This sentiment reflects much of the motivation behind Governor Deval Patrick’s push for reform of medical malpractice laws, which would allow doctors to admit mistakes without fear of it becoming evidence in a later medical malpractice suit (see previous blog here).

Massachusetts is home to some of the world’s most skilled and experienced medical professionals and well-equipped facilities, but even top doctors commit medical errors. The fact that 20% of doctors admitted to not disclosing a medical error, leaving the patient at risk for an even greater injury, amounts to an even higher degree of medical malpractice.

The researchers discovered that male doctors are more likely to lie to patients versus their female counterparts. Further, doctors who graduated from foreign medical schools, outside the US and Canada, were more apt to lie to patients or attempt to cover up a medical mistake. The were also variations amongst medical specialties, as general surgeons and pediatricians were least likely to conceal or lie about medical errors to patients, while cardiologists and psychiatrists were more likely to cover-up medical errors.

Late last month, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick urged lawmakers to pass a sweeping overhaul of the healthcare cost system in the state, following up a similar call to action last year. A large part of his reform effort focuses on restructuring medical malpractice laws in the state. As part of his state of the state address last month, Patrick called for an end to the “fee-for-service” model currently used, which rewards medical providers for the amount of care provided, rather than the quality of care. Governor Patrick also stressed that lawmakers need to amend medical malpractice laws in Massachusetts, making it more difficult to bring suit for medical malpractice and to ultimately prevail. Despite lobbying for a similar overhaul last year, there was no remarkable change to medical malpractice law or healthcare cost systems in Massachusetts. The Governor hopes his latest efforts will bring about more legislative action.

According to Senate President Therese Murray, however, Governor Patrick’s renewed proposals again face many roadblocks. Murray told the State House News Service, “It’s a very difficult piece of legislation because we don’t want to harm our health care institutions. They’re the number one driver of our economy.” Similarly, House Speaker Robert DeLeo would not commit to getting a bill done in the next three months, stressing that a reform to medical malpractice laws and healthcare cost systems are large-scale changes that can greatly affect the healthcare system, and economy, as a whole. The disagreement between legislators surrounding health laws in the state is not novel, as these issues have escaped consensus on Beacon Hill for many years.

Pursuant to Governor Patrick’s medical malpractice legislation, he is calling for laws aimed at decreasing the use of “defensive medicine” and reducing expensive lawsuits by encouraging reconciliation between doctors and patients, before legal action is taken. Because of the high-risk of a lawsuit, doctors who commit medical malpractice are often hesitant to admit fault and address errors. Governor Patrick’s proposed legislation hopes to change this sentiment, allowing Massachusetts doctors to say “I’m sorry” without risking their apology being admitted as evidence against them in a med malpractice lawsuit. Additionally, in an effort to curtail frivolous suits, the bill also calls for a 180-day “cooling off period” before a medical malpractice suit can be brought. All of these laws would make medical malpractice suits more difficult to bring and ultimately win. They would, however, allow doctors to practice without the constant fear of a lawsuit and admit mistakes without automatic penalty.

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