The Real Cost of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice affects tens of thousands of Americans every year. In fact, it may be more common than you think – the National Practitioner Data Bank provided by the US HHS reports nearly 600,000 reported cases of medical malpractice in the ten years ending 2014. Malpractice allegations cover a wide range of medical topics, from “Failure to Diagnose” to “Wrong Medication Administered” to “Wrong Body Part”(!).
Medical malpractice causes more than just physical harm, however. The most surprising part about the HHS data is just how many of the reported malpractice allegations actually resulted in payments for the plaintiff: over 150,000 malpractice allegations have resulted in payments from 2004-2014. These are not small judgements either – more than 10,000 of those judgements resulted in payments greater than $1 million to the plaintiff. These big-ticket judgements don’t seem to be going anywhere either – check out this chart over the last 24 years:
Even as large payout malpractice cases remain on the rise, it appears that the threat of malpractice suits has reduced medical errors across the board. From the same HHS data, we can see that the total amount of malpractice payments has actually drastically decreased since 2000.
Malpractice firm Weiss & Paarz provides an intriguing answer to this trend – the threat of malpractice judgments causes medical providers to pay closer attention to their work and thereby reduces the less significant medical errors that could result in smaller payouts. In fact, their new report shows medical errors as the third most common cause of death in the United States. Additionally, the firm says that malpractice suits tend to filter out the “repeat offenders” – doctors that tend to make more mistakes than others – and create a safer medical system overall.
It is interesting to see the positive effect that legal action can have in a situation like this – a safer health care system results in less financial burden on the federal government to subsidize health care, and ultimately less debt on patients. In a country where medical errors are surprisingly common, it makes good financial sense to keep your legal options in mind should you find yourself at the wrong end of a scalpel.
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