Medical Malpractice Defense Expensive; Cost Passed to Patients

A new study concludes that the high cost to physicians and other health care providers of defending against medical malpractice lawsuits and maintaining medical malpractice insurance ultimately harms patients financially. Doctors' steep malpractice defense costs are in effect reflected in the need to charge higher fees for medical services.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are necessary in our legal system to see that patients are adequately compensated for their injuries when they have been harmed by physician or hospital negligence. Medical negligence can happen many different ways like failing to diagnose a disease or condition, making an anesthesia or medication error, making a mistake in surgery or when delivering a baby, and more.

The study was published April 5 in letter form in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to an article in philly.com, the study found that about $23,000 is the average cost to a doctor defending a malpractice claim, but that costs vary significantly among medical specialties. For example, the average paid claim for a cardiologist is more than $83,000 - but for an ophthalmologist almost $24,000.

These defense costs are relatively high even when plaintiffs do not recover anything in the suits.

However, even if malpractice suits increase medical costs overall, victims of medical negligence should not hesitate to discuss their potential legal claims with experienced medical practice attorneys. Defense costs should never deter malpractice victims from seeking justice.

Interestingly, the article describes an experimental program by the University of Michigan hospital wherein the facility timely notified patients of medical errors and offered compensation, driving down potential defense costs and shortening the time patients had to wait for recovery compared with traditional malpractice suits. It will be interesting to see if this approach picks up steam.

Source: philly.com, "Doctors Detail High Costs of Fighting Malpractice Claims," Mary Brophy Marcus, April 5, 2012

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