Today’s lecture and discussion by Dr. Anderson really got me thinking about medical malpractice in America and how its goals differ from that of patient safety. As a student, there is a tendency to assume the legal system – especially when serving patients who have suffered from an adverse event – serves a just cause. But the facts and arguments presented by Dr. Anderson deserve a clear debate and consideration of potential solutions.
I am not naive enough to believe litigation reform can come form brainstorming among young professionals in healthcare, but it is a worthy exercise to consider how to construct a system that protects honest patients and providers while ensuring compensation to those who deserve it. I cannot help but remember back to a New Yorker article by renowned physician-writer Atul Gawande on medical practice. In discussing alternatives to the current malpractice model in the United States, Gawande described the system in New Zealand, whereby the doctor’s insurance or similar pool of funds is gathered and then distributed to all patients who suffer severe harm and need financial support. The New Zealand system does not attempt to distinguish between patients who suffered harm from provider negligence against those who suffered unavoidable harm. This system prioritizes patients who need financial assistance the most, negates the excessive litigation and court expenses driven by plaintiff attorneys, shares the revenue among as many patients as possible rather than awarding huge settlements to a select few, and eliminates the provider punishment aspect of malpractice. While certainly not perfect, I do believe it is important when discussing patient safety to consider an alternative model such as this which may allow us to truly debate how our health care values should be represented in the legal world.