For the past 40 years, doctors, hospitals and health care insurers have been banging the “crisis drum”–spewing forth a steady barrage of complaints and propaganda to convince the public that there is a malpractice crisis, and that the system will surely soon collapse under the weight of malpractice verdicts and settlement. This long-running campaign has had a wide range of effects, from special laws to protect doctors and make it harder for injured patients to sue, to juries firmly convinced that a verdict against a doctor will place their own health care at risk.
But as the most recent statistics from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) show, the constant lament about a malpractice crisis has little basis in fact. Take Massachusetts for example.
The number of malpractice payments of $2 million or more last year was ten–the lowest total since 2007, when there were eight. And nearly two-thirds of the payments were under $500,000. All told, there were just 286 malpractice payments in Massachusetts last year–the lowest number in the last ten years. That’s just over one per cent of the state’s more than 25,000 active physicians. And the number of paid claims has been steadily dropping over those ten years, while the number of doctors has not.
And the total dollar amount of the payments–$136,000,000 in 2013–may sound large, but it’s less than half of the operating profits of the “non-profit” Partners Health Care system. And again, that’s the lowest total payment amount since 2003. Unless, of course, you adjust the figures for inflation, in which case it’s $30 million less than 2003, and $50 million less than 2008.
These figures, gathered by the national organization to which all malpractice payments must be reported, prove two things. The first is that the “medical malpractice crisis” is a figment of the health care industry’s imagination. The second is that the health care industry’s constant harping has had a dramatic effect on malpractice cases, because the legal climate is so anti-patient. Some patients simply give up because the system is so stacked against them, while others pursue their claims vigorously only to run into a skeptical jury that’s been spoon-fed the insurance industry’s propaganda. And that’s a sad and a dangerous thing for all of us.
Get more details about the NPDB statistics here.