Doctors are only human and will sometimes make mistakes. For more than 30 years, I have been practicing obstetrics and gynecology, so I should know. But the system of medical malpractice litigation is truly a detriment to society and needs to be completely redesigned.
Professional liability costs now eat up about 40 percent of the revenue I earn delivering babies. As this percentage creeps higher, it is only a matter of time before it makes no sense to continue practicing obstetrics at all. Meanwhile, families with sick or damaged babies get erratic compensation while highly paid trial lawyers reap big benefits.
So how do we make a better system?
First, there needs to be a cultural shift away from the idea of blaming one person if there is a less-than-perfect outcome. The success of the airline industry in fostering safety and reducing error through careful investigations of accidents followed by changes in design or practice may bear emulation.
The insurance industry should set up "no fault" compensation plans for those who have injuries that need care and compensation.
The medical profession should organize investigatory panels composed of doctors, lay persons and attorneys to review medical complaints and recommend actions.
These panels should settle the vast majority of complaints, leaving the criminal and civil legal system to deal with only the most egregious of situations.
Dr. John J. LaFerla
The rising cost of malpractice insurance is a serious threat to our health care system. My solution is very simple: Levy a substantial fine on attorneys who bring frivolous malpractice suits and use the money to reduce malpractice insurance costs.
For those who will be injured by medical error, a system must be maintained in a condition of financial solvency that will provide adequate care for physical injury and for emotional pain and suffering. For physicians and hospitals, the cost of malpractice insurance must be affordable.
But the current system is out of balance. Obstetricians have begun to stop practicing because of escalating insurance rates. Insurance rates are jumping each year because of swelling damage awards.
Every time a physician stops practicing, his or her patients are shifted to the doctors who continue to practice. But a major cause of medical errors is physical and mental exhaustion of doctors. And when there is no doctor available, the patient may receive no care and the patient may die.
Who pays for all this?
We all do, and we all bear some responsibility.
Dr. Ralph Scoville
Havre de Grace
Measures must be taken to reduce rising rates of malpractice insurance because such costs are a serious threat to our health care system. However, the steps currently contemplated to reduce those expenses are contrary to the reforms needed in Maryland.
We need to stop focusing on efforts that would benefit insurance companies and the few careless doctors who, even with numerous claims against them, continue to receive insurance.
The best way to lower rates is to practice safer medicine.
I am a volunteer in the emergency department at the Anne Arundel Medical Center, and I am deeply concerned about what's happening in this state because of the unbelievably high cost of medical liability insurance for hospitals, physicians and other health care providers.
Unless something is done, we could find some of our very best doctors retiring, as mine has done.
Maryland hospitals are paying millions more every year to purchase expensive insurance in response to huge jury awards.
Hospitals should be spending this money on patient care, not insurance bills.
Mary Patricia Rutemiller
Years ago, I spotted a bumper sticker that read, "Become a doctor and support a lawyer." Today, the sticker is not amusing.
Look at the back of any telephone book and read the ads for all the malpractice attorneys. Such legal gloating only encourages frivolous lawsuits, which are the engine that drives up malpractice insurance rates.
I suggest we go back to the days when lawyers did not advertise.
If one profession is allowed to prey on another, the guy in the middle suffers. And that "guy" is you and me -- every time we visit a doctor.
Rosalind Nester Ellis
To reduce the rising cost of malpractice insurance, the first and greatest step needed is to reduce the frequency of malpractice.
Doctors who have been sued 15 to 20 times each for medical malpractice are still licensed despite their negligence and potential to injure patients over and over again.
Until these careless doctors are held accountable and weeded out of the health care system, nothing can be done to reduce high medical malpractice insurance rates.
According to the American Medical Association, doctors in at least 19 states, including Maryland, have been forced to drop high-risk procedures or close their medical practices completely because of absurd financial and liability risks.