Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Groups Blame Doctors for Malpractice Rates. (Consumer Organizations)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Groups Blame Doctors for Malpractice Rates. (Consumer Organizations)

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- If physicians really want to lower their malpractice premiums, they should weed out bad doctors who are responsible for medical errors, representatives of a coalition of consumer advocacy organizations said at a recent press briefing.

The groups--which also include Public Citizen and the Consumer Federation of America--are challenging organized medicine's long-time claim that increased litigation and super-sized legal judgments are to blame for skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs.

The American Medical Association "is investing its resources in a firestorm" to prove that the insurance crisis is hurting patients, said Arthur Levin, a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee that in 1999 reported that up to 98,000 people die in hospitals annually because of preventable medical errors.

"Nothing is farther from the truth. It's injuries that are hurting patients," he said.

In focusing on the malpractice "crisis," organized medicine is ignoring the IOM's call to reduce medical errors, said Mr. Levin, who is also director of the Center for Medical Consumers.

Doctors' lobbying power has blocked critical reforms that would reduce medical errors, the advocacy groups said.

As an example, the AMA has successfully prevented patients--and physicians--from learning the identities of physicians in the National Practitioner Data Bank who have had malpractice payouts against them. Nor can patients learn which physicians have either lost their hospital admitting privileges or had restrictions placed on their privileges.

This secrecy deprives patients of valuable information when choosing a physician, according to Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who is director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

Although data on individual physicians are not available, overall statistics from the data bank show that in the past 12 years, just 5.1% of U.S. physicians accounted for 54.2% of malpractice payouts, Dr. Wolfe said.

"In other words, most repeat offenders are still practicing, usually without ever having had any disciplinary actions taken against them," Dr. Wolfe added at the press briefing.

Only 7.6% of physicians who have had two or more malpractice payouts have been disciplined in the last 12 years, according to the data bank.

Further, state medical boards have done a poor job in enforcing medical practice laws and adequately disciplining physicians, Dr. Wolfe said. Physicians should be looking inward--and pressuring state medical boards to do a better job.

The rise in malpractice premiums also can be attributed to normal economic cycles, according to a Public Citizen report released at the briefing.

When the economy is robust and investment yields are high, insurance companies are able to keep premiums at modest levels.

But when the economy falters and investment returns drop, insurers raise premiums to make up for lost revenues, J. …

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