By Mark Ingebretsen, MedPage Today Staff Writer
Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD; Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, January 19, 2005
When explaining their opposition to limiting jury-awarded damages for pain and suffering in medical liability cases, Democrats and others often point to incompetent doctors whose grievous preventable errors justify high jury awards. Instead of damage caps, better efforts to discipline these doctors are needed, they claim.
A recent article in The New York Times hints that President Bush is sensitive to this view and may see it as a way to garner support for his medical liability reform legislation.
The article discussed a federal study on ways to assist state boards of medical examiners in disciplining doctors.
Study author Josephine Gittler, a University of Iowa law professor, said in the Times article that “If you had more aggressive policing of incompetent physicians and more effective disciplining of doctors who engage in substandard practice, that could decrease the type of negligence that leads to malpractice suits.”
The article mentioned Massachusetts as a possible model for how state medical review boards else where could better track incompetent physicians. Under its program, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine automatically investigates any physician who has been ordered to make “three or more malpractice payments to patients as a result of jury verdicts or settlements,” the newspaper said.
The Times article also hinted at added disciplinary provisions on the federal level. The article quoted White House Press Secretary Mark McClellan who called the issue of incompetent physicians “a national problem that requires a national solution.”
The President may already enjoy considerable public support for efforts to more aggressively discipline physicians, according to a national survey.
The survey found that 34% of Americans said either that they had been subjected to a preventable medical error or that they were aware of a family member who experienced a preventable error. Moreover, 21% said the most recent medical error they experienced “had serious health consequences, including severe pain (16%); serious loss of time at work, school, or other important life activities (16%); temporary disability (12%); long term disability (11%); and/or death (8%).”
The survey was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at Harvard’s School of Public Health.