America’s medical malpractice crisis is a myth, according to a new report by Public Citizen, Ralph Nader’s national watchdog group.
“The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax” says improving patient safety, reducing preventable errors, and disciplining the small number of physicians who are actually incompetent would go further in stemming rising health-care costs than capping judgments.
The report relied on statistics from the National Practitioners Data Bank (NPDB) for the period 1990-2005. The data bank records malpractice judgments and settlements, as well as state and hospital disciplinary actions against doctors.
Public Citizen’s analysis showed that more than four out of five doctors listed in the NPDB never had a malpractice payment made on their behalf. However, 5.9% of doctors were responsible at least two payments during the period, accounting for 57.8% of the payments made.
The report also found a marked reduction in the financial impact of malpractice suits. Over the 15-year period studied, the number of overall payments declined 15.4% and the average payment verdict dropped 8% when adjusted for inflation. Moreover, the size of the payment correlated with the severity of the injury. For example, million-dollar verdicts accounted for less than 3% of all payments in 2005, whereas less than a third of 1% of these payments were for “insignificant injury.”
“The false claims of a malpractice lawsuit crisis…distract from real health-care reform designed to im-prove patient safety, enhance efficiency, and cut costs,” says Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch group.