As unbelievable as it may seem, a study undertaken by Johns Hopkins has concluded that medical negligence is now deemed to be the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. The facts surrounding this revelation are nothing short of staggering. For example, the study concludes that the majority of medical negligence incidents are typically unreported. This means that the documented 251,454 deaths occasioned last year by medical negligence omits entirely the larger number of unreported cases. It also omits deaths caused by negligence at nursing homes throughout the U.S. This trend has been in escalation for quite some time. For example, in 1999 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office reported that as many as 180,000 premature deaths were caused by medical negligence among Medicare patients alone.
Owing to disinformation perpetuated by a very effective, expensive and protracted marketing campaign, insurance companies have created the widely held impression that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits have resulted in an exorbitant increase in physicians’ malpractice premiums. This phenomena, so the fiction goes, has both escalated the consumer’s cost of health care while driving a certain percentage of qualified physicians to leave their profession altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. That the nation’s healthcare system is broken is undisputed. The reason for its dysfunction, however, is the endless bureaucracy and red tape machinated by the insurers themselves. As presently constituted, the system foists artificial burdens and barriers on doctors who, after all, should make recommendations and decisions based upon a patient’s need and not upon the need to successfully navigate the insurance industry’s draconian rules.
In Massachusetts, there are other safeguards to prevent meritless lawsuits against physicians. For example, in each instance, a Tribunal is convened in court which is comprised of a judge, a lawyer and a medical professional. Unless a majority of the tribunal is adequately convinced that a potential case has merit, the case is dismissed. This gate-keeping function, along with the not unsubstantial expense of pursuing a medical malpractice case usually discourages frivolous cases from being pursued in the first place.
Vigilance is the key to avoiding medical negligence. You should seek to be your own advocate and ask your doctor lots of questions to satisfy yourself that you are receiving appropriate care. To this end, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question. Seeking a second opinion is yet another way of increasing your odds of avoiding malpractice. While the United States enjoys the finest health care in the world, like all other things in life, it isn’t perfect. Your avid awareness and participation in your medical care ensures the best possible result.