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Patient Bill Of Rights: What Ever Happened To It?

One of the more surprising twists and turns in the continuing debate over healthcare reform is that many physicians who now object to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were just a few years back advocates for more federal regulation. In fact, in the early 2000s, more than 200 “provider” and consumer groups — including many state medical and national medical specialty societies that now oppose the ACA because of concerns about “excessive regulation” — were among the fiercest champions of federal legislation to mandate that health insurers comply with a Patient Bill of Rights.

A bipartisan bill introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) would have ensured that patients have the “right” to appeal insurance company denials to independent reviewers, to choose a specialist of their choice, and to access emergency room services when needed. This effort to enact a federal Patient Bill of Rights failed, because of opposition from the insurance industry and President George W. Bush.

I bring up this history lesson because most of the key provisions in the McCain-Kennedy bill are now the law of the land, thanks to the ACA. Yet instead of applauding the new protections, many of the same physician organizations who called for a federal patient bill of rights now want to “repeal” the same consumer protections established by the ACA. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

New AMA Report: More Than 40% Of U.S. Physicians Are Victims Of Lawsuits

badappleI received this press release and was depressed by the prevalence of lawsuits filed against doctors in this country. More than 40% of physicians are sued at some point in their careers, and the vast majority of these suits are found to be meritless. If that doesn’t make you want to quit practicing medicine, I don’t know what does.

This kind of litigious climate definitely adds to my stress levels — and makes me fearful of caring for very sick and fragile patients who are likely to have poor outcomes, regardless of what I do. Many of my colleagues practice medicine with one eye always looking over their shoulder, wondering when that one bad apple will take them to court in an attempt at a financial windfall.

In Canada, those who bring frivolous lawsuits to court are responsible for all legal costs. Read more »

The Other Reason Why Medical Malpractice Reform Is Critical

There hasn’t been much discussion about serious tort reform in the current healthcare reform debate. That’s probably because most policy experts don’t believe it will make a significant dent in healthcare costs. I happen to believe that tort reform would be a huge boon for healthcare (just ask Ob/Gyns in Texas) and save a lot in defensive medicine practices and unnecessary testing, but even if I’m wrong and it wouldn’t result in cost-savings, there’s another issue at play: access to primary care physicians.

We all agree that we’re in the midst of a major shortage in primary care physicians. Many different solutions have been proposed – everything from “let the nurses do it” to forgiving medical school loans to physicians who choose primary care as a career. However, solving the PCP shortage isn’t just about recruitment, it’s about retention. And with up to a half of PCPs saying that practice conditions are so unbearable they’re planning to quit in the next 2 years – Houston, we have a problem. Read more »

Threat Of Medical Malpractice Is The Only Force Opposing Healthcare Rationing

DrRich’s conviction that covert rationing is the engine that drives many (if not most) of the bizarre behaviors we see in the American healthcare system leads him to take positions on certain contentious issues that do not endear him to either his progressive or his conservative friends.

One of these issues is malpractice liability reform.

DrRich wrote about this some time ago (here and here), and as a result managed to alienate more than a few of his readers, especially the ones who are doctors. So if he were smart, DrRich would leave it alone. (After all, a lot of readers have long since forgotten precisely why they do not like DrRich, and merely harbor toward him a vague sense of unease and distrust. This, DrRich finds, he can live with.)

But a couple of things prompt DrRich to take up this topic once again.  Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

How Medical Malpractice Reform Could Save Lives

When my six-year-old daughter heard that I was going to write about President Obama’s speech to the American Medical Association in Chicago, she offered me this insight: “He’s not a doctor! He isn’t supposed to tell people what to do when they’re sick; he’s supposed to rule the world.”  Yet, regrettably, doctors do need his help and it was with great interest that on June 15, the medical community listened.

I suspect that my colleagues in Chicago are the only crowd to boo the President during a speech since his election, and I think that much can be learned by examining why this occurred.  Just moments before being booed, Obama received raucous applause when he acknowledged, “that some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable. That’s a real issue.”  Physicians in the audience then booed the next line, “I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed.”  The President went on to offer a plan to help physicians avoid practicing expensive defensive medicine.  “We need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, let doctor’s focus on practicing medicine, and encourage broader use of evidence based guidelines.”

I do not object to President Obama’s sincere and well delivered remarks to the AMA, but found some of them to contain trite platitudes.  Encouraging physicians to “put patient safety first, focus on practicing medicine and follow evidence-based guidelines” is like asking airline pilots to pay attention to safety gauges, fly their planes, and respect passengers. I found the admonition to follow evidence-based guidelines as a means to avoid medical malpractice claims a particularly naïve statement.  I’m not arguing against using guidelines, I just don’t see how guidelines will protect me from a lawsuit any more than the currently used standard-of-care.

I share the President’s opinion that any individual should have the option of remediation through the court system when wronged but large, punitive settlements change the way hospitals and physicians practice medicine and have resulted in an untold number of unnecessary surgeries as well as causing the actual death of many who never had their day in court.  Unreasonably large medical malpractice settlements often have consequences that reach far beyond the parties involved in the original suit. Follow the relationship between cerebral palsy and C-sections and you will understand my assertion.  In 1985, then trial lawyer John Edwards won a settlement of 6.5 million dollars against a hospital and 1.5 million dollars from an OB/GYN doctor arguing that if a C-section had only been done for an unfortunate child she would have been born without cerebral palsy.  This case set off a chain reaction of suits throughout the country, leading obstetricians to practice defensive c-sections. The United States currently has the highest rate of C-sections in the world, the most expensive obstetrical costs per birth, and when measuring infant mortality ranks 42nd out of 43 industrialized nations.

In 1970, six percent of births in the U.S. were done by C-section; today that number has risen to over 30% while the WHO recommended, in 2006, that the actual rate should be no higher than 15%. Yet, the last four decades have seen the cerebral palsy birth rates remain close to 2 per 1000 live births in the U.S. without change.   Considering that women are 4 times more likely to die during a C section than during a vaginal birth it becomes a simple and tragic mathematical exercise.  Consider that in Scandinavia the maternal death rate is 3 per 100,000 births while 13 mothers die per 100,000 births in the United States; unless you’re African American–then you count an appalling 34 dead for every 100,000 births.  Furthermore, once you have had a C-section there is a very good chance that all future births will be done the same way with an increased rate of hysterectomies, post-operative infections, blood clots, drug reactions, etc.

On the other hand, tort reform has resulted in major shifts in the physician workforce.  In 2003 Texas put a cap of a quarter million dollars on malpractice settlements for pain and suffering but did not place a limit on the actual economic loss suffered by a plaintiff.  The limit for a wrongful death case was set at 1.6 million dollars.  Since 2003 Texas has seen 18% more doctors filing for new medical licenses per year (30% in 2007) and by the end of 2007 there was a 6 month backlog for the medical board to begin processing new license requests. The increased number of physicians has helped to improve access to care. Medical malpractice reform is necessary to avoid the kind of collective defensive behaviors that, ironically, may not be in the best interests of patients.

In my next few posts, I plan to discuss various aspects of our broken healthcare system. It is imperative that we understand all of these problems to avoid making things worse. This will require a probing and honest evaluation of what is wrong today.  I also intend to discuss the President’s plans for reform and while I don’t agree with all of his plans, he has put forth many ideas that I do agree with.  The time for reform is here, action appears inevitable, and the moment to speak out is now.

Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,

Steve Simmons, MD

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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