According to Business Week, malpractice payouts by physicians and their insurers amounted to less than 1% of the country's overall health care cost. So, let's begin with a reality check. Malpractice suits are simply not a significant driver of health care costs.
There Are a Lot of Medical Errors
Medical errors happen far more often than most of us would like to consider. In a recent study, 35% of physicians reported errors in their own or a family member's care. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that there are 1,500 cases a year of foreign objects that are left in a person's body during surgery.
The Results of Medical Errors Can be Profound
The consequences of medical errors can be profound. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine said that preventable medical errors were the eighth leading cause of death. One physician, Lucien Leape, M.D. estimated that medical errors may actually be the third leading cause of death in the United States. There may be as many as 98,000 deaths per year in hospitals alone as a result of medical errors.
Most People Aren't Told About Medical Errors
Only 30% of patients harmed by a medical error were told of the problem by the professional responsible for the mistake, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Thus, most people who suspect they have been a victim of medical negligence have to sue to find out if it's true.
Doctors Are Not Policing Themselves
Doctors are not policing themselves nor are the states charged with regulating the profession. Fewer than .25% (that's 1/4 of one percent) of licensed physicians face any serious state sanction in any given year. In 1999, there 2,696 serious state disciplinary actions instituted by the states, this despite the fact that it is believed that 98,000 people die every year as a result of preventable medical errors.
People Injured by Medical Errors Rarely Sue
One Harvard study estimated that only 1 in 7.6 actionable cases is every actually pursued by injured patients.