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Aug 28

Time to reform Florida’s broken medical liability system

gavelby Wayne W. Oliver
Originally published in the Palm Beach Post  on August 28, 2014

In 2013, nearly 19 million Floridians paid up to $40 billion per year in defensive medicine costs so that 75 medical malpractice cases could go to a jury trial to compensate 18 injured patients.

Escalating health care costs are being fueled by physicians’ need to practice “defensive medicine.” Defensive medicine is the practice of ordering medical tests, procedures, and consultations of doubtful clinical or therapeutic value to protect against litigation. Defensive medicine is a hidden driver in the cost of health care, and accounts for as much as 26 percent of overall health care spending.

Instead of spending time ordering tests that may have questionable clinical value in order to protect against the wearying threat of litigation, wouldn’t a physician’s time be better spent improving the quality of health care? Improving patient care, along with fair patient compensation practices, should be twin goals, but better care is not at the heart of tort reform.

Ask any physician how they feel about the current system and be prepared to listen to a litany of concerns including the constant fear of being sued and the pressure to practice defensive medicine even if it is not in the best interest of their patients.

We simply can’t afford to continue our dysfunctional medical liability system. Florida has an opportunity to be a leader of a bold and innovative reform known as the Patients’ Compensation System (PCS) which works not only to cut health care costs, but to increase access to health justice and compensate patients who were medically injured. The PCS solution is a quicker, less complicated and less costly approach.

The PCS solution allows physicians to admit their mistakes without fear of retribution and encourages shared best practices with other physicians to improve patient safety and patient outcomes. Physicians will be more likely to incorporate new breakthroughs and medical discoveries in treating their patients which in turn could result in better patient outcomes.

Under the current system, most injured patients – especially the poor, minorities and elderly – have limited access to justice. Even if injured patients are able to secure representation and make it through a lengthy medical malpractice lawsuit, most are not being fairly compensated. Shockingly, research shows that 90 percent of legitimate medical injuries are not compensated. The PCS alternative would ensure that any Florida injured patient — not only would those whose injuries were bad enough to attract a trial lawyer — be fairly compensated with dollars generated by physicians’ malpractice premiums. The premiums would no longer pay for expensive litigation costs. Instead they would pay for their original intent: compensating injured patients.

It’s time to reform Florida’s broken medical liability system into a Patients’ Compensation System. Florida can be a leader and demonstrate to the rest of the nation how to lower heath care costs, increase access to justice, and increase compensation to injured patients through a quicker, less complicated approach. We can show that increased patient safety and improved patient outcomes for Floridians are a priority. And, we can play a part in advancing health care by encouraging medical breakthroughs and health care innovation.

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