In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering taking away the constitutional rights of the State’s citizens with a damage cap on medical malpractice lawsuits. The goal is to reduce medical malpractice settlements, which are among the highest in the nation. But even as this is being discussed, 8 of 13 obstetricians at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital have been informed that underwriters have recommended not renewing their medical malpractice insurance because their “method of practice” and “practice environment” was “predictive of future claims in excess of the norm.” Whether this is indicative of the true state of these doctors’ practices or just a maneuver on the part of insurance companies in the buildup to the fight over medical malpractice damage caps, it points to a key element in reducing malpractice costs and payments.
The best step to reduce medical malpractice costs is to reduce medical errors. To paraphrase the legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group: “If no one gets hurt, no one gets sued.” About 98% of people filing medical malpractice lawsuits have suffered a real injury as a result of a medical procedure, though not all those injuries are due to medical errors.
And one New York hospital is showing just how easy and effective it is to reduce medical errors if the hospital is committed to the effort. New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell has reduced “sentinel events” such as avoidable deaths and serious injuries from five in 2000 to zero in 2008-2009. In the process, they reduced their payouts by over 99%. No tort reform anywhere, short of completely stripping everyone of rights to any compensation whatsoever, can promise that kind of cost reduction.
How did they do it? Some of the changes were basic, such as replacing a whiteboard used to track patient progress with an electronic record. Others were reasonable precautions hospitals should have implemented long ago, such as a safety nurse who educates the other nurses on safety protocols and conducts emergency drills so everyone knows how to respond in the event of sudden complications to prevent birth injuries and other negative outcomes. The hospital also reduced working hours so doctors were not working when sleepy. This required the hiring of three physician assistants and a “laborist,” an obstetrician who works at the hospital full time on nights and weekends, reducing the need to call in doctors who might be asleep or far from the hospital.
Hopefully, New Yorkers take head of these changes and call for more hospitals to follow these practices, instead of falling for the damage cap ruse, as Ohio legislators did. Damage caps do not protect patients, and may not reduce medical malpractice premiums. The only thing damage caps are guaranteed to do is increase insurance company profits.
If you have been hurt by a doctor’s error in Ohio, you may be able to receive compensation. To learn whether you have a case, please contact the lawyers of Robert W. Kerpsack, CO, LPA today for a free consultation.