Opinion: Are 61% of doctors bad?

According to recent data from the American Medical Association, by age 55, 61% of American doctors have been sued for medical malpractice.

That’s pretty much like saying that nearly 2 out of 3 doctors are negligent, are performing demonstrably below the “standard of care”, and deserve to be punished with a crushing financial blow that could ruin their life and wipe out their savings.

In some specialties, the numbers are even higher. For example: in both Obstetrics and Gynecology, and in General Surgery, 69.2% of these specialists have been sued. Of course, those are high-risk specialties, by the very nature of what these doctors do. At the other end of the scale, only 22.2% of psychiatrists have been sued.

Wake up, everybody! These percentages are absurdly high, especially in what is arguably the best medical system in the world.

Why does this happen in the American legal system? In my opinion, two main reasons: the potential for a multi-million dollar payoff if you happen to win your case, and no downside to you personally if you don’t win. It’s a jackpot system, which encourages people with minor issues to try to sue.

There’s plenty of data showing how frivolous lawsuits add to the cost of health care. Now that the costs of health care are a major issue, it really is time to consider answers to this problem.

Some experts favor changing the existing law in one simple way. Make it “loser-pays” – the losing party would pay the legal fees of both parties. (link to report) That way, people with a legitimate beef can still have all their legal rights to proceed with their actions, but the frivolous ones will be appropriately discouraged by the potential of the major costs involved, if their complaint is bogus. This system is used in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and interestingly, the State of Alaska.

Others feel that a loser-pay system would just increase the size of the monetary awards involved, and not actually reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits.

I’m certainly no legal scholar. But surely, 61% of doctors do not deserve this kind of beating up.

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