08192017Headline:

Vancouver, Washington

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Don Jacobs
Don Jacobs
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Fixing the health care mess

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As the nation sets out on the path to change the health care system, the usual players at the table are demanding we change medical malpractice laws as part of the fix. The same tired ideas discredited years ago as not being a solution to anything are being revived again. Capping what an injured patient can recover, limiting what they can pay their attorney or creating more roadblocks to go through to recover compensation are some of the “new ideas” being proposed. For decades we’ve been told rising malpractice insurance rates are a direct result of too many lawsuits. But malpractice rates are now declining in Oregon and Washington. Yet neither of these states passed any malpractice reforms. So have the number of lawsuits fallen off? Or have doctors fled the northwest to other states that passed reforms, thus lessening the number of doctors available to be sued? Hardly. Neither state has seen any significant change in physician numbers. But what about all those news articles claiming doctors were fleeing your state? It turns out it was just a media campaign. Run by people who have a lot to gain by convincing you the malpractice system was out of control. One that was pretty illogical too since it was run in just about every state, making you wonder where they were fleeing. Canada? But what about the effect on health care costs? Isn’t the ever increasing cost of health care caused by all those frivolous law suits? An interesting article in the March Canadian Medical Journal contained the following quote, “After years of warnings from former United States president George Bush that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits were driving doctors out of practice and inflating the cost of US health care, the weight of evidence now points to preventable errors – not misguided lawsuits – as the real source of the concerns." It appears shoddy quality control still plagues medicine. "American health care operates with levels of unreliability, injury, waste and just plain poor service that long ago became unacceptable in many other industries," according to Dr. Donald Berwick, a Harvard pediatrician and a crusader for fixing poor care. At least a hundred thousand people die every year because of preventable medical mistakes. Some sources estimate this amounts to over $500 billion a year in avoidable medical costs. If true, this figure is close to 30% of all health care spending in America. Curing this problem in our medical system would go a long way towards reducing health care costs. And simple solutions appear to be the biggest cost savers. Surgical checklists are one example. So doctors know before and after a procedure that all required tasks have been completed. So is computerization of medical records, so doctors can quickly see and be able to actually read what prescriptions other doctors have given to a patient. Let’s hope the fix to the health care involves reforms to the health care system, not the court system. Otherwise we all end up with less rights and the same health care system.