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So many lawyers, so little time...

"The prospect of hanging focuses the mind wonderfully"--Samuel Johnson

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Location: Louisville, KY, United States

Gastroenterologist, cyclist, cellist, Christian, husband, father, grandfather.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Smoke 'em out

For the sake of argument, accept the statistic that the number of deaths in America from medical malpractice outnumber the combined deaths from breast, colon and prostate cancer (I don't accept this as a fact, but visit virtually any tort lawyer's website and the figure is taken as God's own Truth). Considering that our medicolegal system sucks off billions of dollars from the delivery of healthcare, and that lawyers currently offer precious little to protect the health of patients prospectively, and that for all the attention the malpractice crisis has gotten we've seen little demonstrable improvement in the overall quality of healthcare over the past thirty years, one might reasonably conclude that, as an organization dedicated to the reduction of medical errors, the American Trial Lawyers Association is a dismal failure.

At my "risk management" seminar I saw one of the most astounding video clips on malpractice I've ever seen. In 2000, a family lost their two year old daughter due to medical negligence at Johns Hopkins University. The mother, in her anguish and while fighting back tears, recited how the university had, through gross miscommunication, more or less executed her little girl.

What made this so astounding was that the mother was delivering this lecture at Johns Hopkins University, to the medical staff.

As the camera panned the very attentive audience, there were few dry eyes to be seen. There were more than a few of us at the seminar who were also fighting back tears.

In every family statement regarding a malpractice lawsuit I've ever heard, the family spokesperson invariably says "It's not about the money (although we expect huge amounts from the trial)" and "We just don't want anyone to suffer like we have (although we aren't about to lift a finger to try to fix whatever situation lead to the tragedy)". Astonishingly, the family of the little girl took a sizable portion of their malpractice award and set up a program at Johns Hopkins to improve medical communication so that no one else might have to suffer the needless loss of a loved one.

Imagine. Taking money awarded because of malpractice and reinvesting it in improving the delivery of healthcare. I had never heard of this before.

Then the vision came: our local, state, and national medical societies appealing to the Trial Lawyers to join us in seeking constructive improvements to the system. "Our lawyer brothers and sisters, join us in improving healthcare in our country. Donate your time AND money for systems review and development. Work with us to make medical errors a thing of the past."

Expecting lawyers to tell us stuff beyond "If you didn't document it, it didn't happen" and "Be nice to your patients, you arrogant bastards" and "Work smarter, not harder" is of course delusional. But it would smoke 'em out and dispel the notion once and for all that what they do is supposed to be in the Public Interest.

9 Comments:

Anonymous rab said...

JPT-

Is this the long awaited essay on how to 'solve' the medical malpractice frivolous lawsuits problem?

Since the vast majority of lawsuits are frivolous that in itself implies that there is nothing to fix. The other lawsuits where there is legitimate cause can lead to better practice if some of the $ is returned for education.

All in all, it is just another iteration of what the teacher's union say is the problem of poor results in public education. Just give us some more $.

The problem is not lack of education of the medical profession but rather an almost unlimited number of greedy and unethical lawyers.

5:19 PM  
Blogger marsattacks said...

How did I get here? Thanks to Andrew Mathis and Orac.

Nice insight in the US legal system. Oh yeah, I am a lawyer, but an European one, does that make me different?

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