Blog author: jballor
by on Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In an Acton Commentary this week, I argue that a critical piece of any comprehensive and meaningful reform of the health care system must include malpractice litigation (tort) reform. Part of what makes this so urgent is that the litigious climate in which we live has eroded the doctor-patient relationship. In “Patients and Doctors: Partners not Adversaries,” I write that “patients are less inclined to trust doctors whom they believe are ordering tests and procedures out of a desire to protect their own economic interests. Patients in turn are much more apt to turn to legal remedies when they feel that doctors have not been forthcoming and trustworthy.”

Last week President Barack Obama spoke on a conference call to thousands of faith leaders from around the country to try and enlist them in his fight for health care reform. Highlights of the president’s remarks, as well as full audio of the proceedings, are available here.

I should note that I was not (at least intentionally) channeling Sarah Palin when composing this piece. But last week Shane Vander Hart (at the ever-worthy Caffeinated Thoughts) pointed out that the former Alaska governor wrote in a recent Facebook memo that “we cannot have health care reform without tort reform.” Of course my (and Gov. Palin’s) argument is not novel with either of us.

But what is novel is the particular concrete approach that I highlight in the commentary. The University of Michigan Health System has implemented policies that encourage doctors to be upfront and honest about the regret for procedures gone awry and admit when mistakes might have been made.

As David N. Goodman of the AP reports, “The willingness to admit mistakes goes well beyond decency and has proven a shrewd business strategy,” citing an article in the Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law, “A Better Approach to Medical Malpractice Claims? The University of Michigan Experience,” by Richard C. Boothman, Amy C. Blackwell, Darrell A. Campbell, Jr., Elaine Commiskey, and Susan Anderson (PDF). The article cites a case that “illustrates how an honest, principle-driven approach to claims is better for all those involved—the patient, the healthcare providers, the institution, future patients, and even the lawyers.”

For some basic facts on health care, visit the Health Insurance Costs page at the National Coalition on Health Care. And for more information about the widespread practice of defensive medicine, see the PDF report from the November 2008 study, “Investigation of Defensive Medicine in Massachusetts” by the Massachusetts Medical Society. For more Acton resources, check out the institute’s Health Care media page.

  • Roger McKinney

    Tort reform and defensive medicine are important, but they’re not the major causes of rapidly increasing medical bills. The major causes are an artitificial shortage of doctors and hospital beds, coupled with over capacity in expensive diagnostic equipment.