Straightening Up the Med Mal Mess

Doctors are flocking to Texas. The reason--or the explanation that's become the perceived wisdom--is caps on malpractice awards. Since 2003, when the state legislature imposed a ...
May 26, 2008

Doctors are flocking to Texas. The reason--or the explanation that's become the perceived wisdom--is caps on malpractice awards. Since 2003, when the state legislature imposed a maximum of $250,000 per defendant on non-economic damages, the number of medical malpractice suits has plummeted from more than 1,000 a year to less than 200 per.

All of which seems at odds with what's happening in Massachusetts, which ranks fourth from the top in terms of high-priced malpractice settlements. It's a state that sets no caps on medmal suits. Yet the Bay State is also experiencing a plummeting. Only this time it's in the cost of malpractice premiums. On average, Massachusetts docs are paying less for malpractice insurance than they did 15 years ago, according to a study by the Suffolk University Law School that ran in Health Affairs.

Massachusetts doctors have no complaint about that. In Texas, however, there are some rumblings of physician discontent. In an effort to make sure that, with a lowering of the malpractice-suit threat, docs are performing up to snuff, the Texas Medical Board beefed up its investigatory arm, and now the docs are accusing it of overzealous oversight.

There's one other interesting insight into the medmal issue: At several well respected academic medical centers, doctors and hospital officials have taken to apologizing to patients when errors occur and providing fair compensation. That's had a dramatic effect not only on the number of malpractice suits but on legal costs. The latter, according to a report in the New York Times, have fallen by two-thirds since the "I'm sorry" approach went into effect. And doctors and hospitals took the opportunity to learn from the mistake and correct procedures.

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