A few weeks ago, a group of physicians from WakeMed and other Triangle hospitals traveled to Washington to talk with North Carolina’s Congressional delegation about several aspects of health care reform, including the need to address medical malpractice issues.
Their visit coincided with a report from the Congressional Budget Office indicating that malpractice reform could have saved about $11 billion in health care costs this year. We need to create limits for medical malpractice lawsuits, while still ensuring that patients are appropriately compensated for avoidable mistakes. I think it’s important to include medical malpractice reform as part of the health care package for one primary reason – it will reduce health care costs. As Congress works to solve the health care issues facing our country, it shouldn’t overlook such a significant opportunity to reduce costs and improve health care.
To provide you with additional insight and information, I asked Dr. Ravish Sachar, a cardiologist with Wake Heart & Vascular Associates to write about his trip to Washington and his views on tort reform.
Tort Reform from a Physician Perspective
Ravish Sachar, MD
Wake Heart & Vascular Associates
Cost and access are critical issues that need to be addressed in health care reform, but to date everything except malpractice reform (which has major impact on both) seems to be on the table. This is why I recently accompanied a group of physicians from the Triangle area to Washington DC to meet with legislators to present our case for medical malpractice reform (Dr. Subhash Gumber, Dr. Prashant Patel, Dr. Joel Schneider, Dr. Matthew Hook, Dr. Benjamin Atkeson, Dr. Lakshman Rao, Dr. Brent Elmers, and Dr. Ritu Saluja). Our group met with staff and Congressional members in the offices of Senator Hagan and Representatives Schuler, Price, Miller, Etheridge and McIntyre.
The issue is this: one of the first lectures most physicians hear when starting their training is on how to avoid lawsuits. This sets the tone for the way we practice medicine in this country – defensively. The implications of defensive medicine are costly. It increases the price of our health care exponentially. For example, several studies have shown that approximately 90% of all physicians report ordering tests for defensive reasons, and between 18 to 26 percent of all imaging tests ordered by physicians are done so in an effort to avoid potential litigation. These unnecessary tests clog our health care system, increase risks and cost for patients, and impede access as a whole. But the implications of medical malpractice go far beyond the costs of unnecessary tests and procedures. It also impacts where and how physicians choose to practice, thus, creating healthcare access issues.
We thank our legislators for listening to us and hope that the information we conveyed will be taken into account as they work toward a final health reform bill. Real changes in the tort system could equal real savings that would go a long way in covering the large uninsured population.
Physiciansfortortreform.org has more information on the subject and, if you are a physician and agree that malpractice reform should be part of the overall healthcare reform, please show your support by signing the petition.