Acton Institute Powerblog

Patients and Doctors

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

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.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • 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.