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How medical malpractice cases may actually improve health care

Over the last few years, many of us in Pittsburgh have personally experienced the rising cost of health care. Hospitals and physicians have pointed to medical malpractice lawsuit as a major factor in the cost increase. They said that expensive payouts and frivilous lawsuits have driven health care costs up. Many have called for serious tort reform, including caps on malpractice payouts and shorter statutes of limitation.

Interestingly, however, some have found that tort reform has caused the number of medical malpractice claims to rise. And some argue that large medical malpractice awards actually lead to better health care. They pointed to anesthesilogy as an example. 

Several decades ago, medical malpractice lawsuits targeting anesthesiologists were extremely frequent. Anesthesia was proving dangerous to patients as one in 6,000 patients died from it. In the 80s, anesthesiology came under fire when a slew of medical malpractice cases were decided in favor of patients. In response, anesthesiology was completely revamped. Because of those efforts, very few people are injured due to anesthesia alone today. 

Unfortunately, other fields of medicine have not taken the same path as anesthesiology. They are still resisting change, which is causing injury or death to patients. 

While doctors and hospitals like to point to medical malpractice lawsuits as the reasoning behind the rising cost of health care, history clearly shows that large-verdict lawsuits can prompt positive change that helps both patients and doctors. If injured patients continue to hold doctors and hospitals acocuntable for their irreversible mistakes, hopefully it will lead to needed change in the future. 

Source: Insurance Journal, "Do Big Malpractice Awards Really Increase Medical Costs?" Aug. 25, 2013

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