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Monday, June 21, 2010

Emergency Rooms and Lawsuits

One of the last things that the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress were interested in during the debate over health care reform resulting in passage of ObamaCare was medical tort reform. After all, trial lawyers are big givers to the Democratic Party.

And now we have another report on the impact of lawsuits – and the threat of lawsuits – on how medicine in practiced.

The Associated Press reports:

Fast decisions on life-and-death cases are the bread and butter of hospital emergency rooms. Nowhere do doctors face greater pressures to overtest and overtreat.

The fear of missing something weighs heavily on every doctor's mind. But the stakes are highest in the ER, and that fear often leads to extra blood tests and imaging scans for what may be harmless chest pains, run-of-the-mill head bumps, and non-threatening stomachaches.

Many ER doctors say the No. 1 reason is fear of malpractice lawsuits. "It has everything to do with it," said Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. …

Refusing those demands creates unhappy patients. And concern that unhappy patients will sue remains the elephant in the emergency room.

ER physicians are among the top 10 specialists most likely to be sued for malpractice, according to leading doctor and insurers groups.

The Physicians Insurers Association of America, which represents almost two-thirds of private practice doctors, lists more than 600 lawsuits against ER doctors nationwide between 2006-08. That's about 3 percent of their clients.

Statistics vary by region, and chances of being sued generally are greater for several other specialties, including obstetricians, surgeons and internists.

Read the entire piece here.

So, one of the drivers of increased costs, including the cost of insurance, continues.

Raymond J. Keating
Chief Economist
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

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