Health care community must bring errors to light

November 14, 2010

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RE “GOP can streamline health law, improve malpractice system’’ (Editorial, Nov. 7): You point out that the current medical malpractice system “provides benefits to too few deserving victims of physicians’ mistakes.’’ One large reason for this is that most of our hospitals are insulated from lawsuits because they are considered nonprofit and protected by the state’s charitable immunity statute. This is despite the fact that they have total revenue in the hundreds of millions. As a result, large institutions are not held accountable for numerous medical errors that are systemic in nature, such as rampant infections, poor hospital procedures, or inadequate training and staffing.

Meanwhile, a crisis in health care quality continues to cause astronomical numbers of medical errors each year. According to the Institute of Medicine, 98,000 people die each year from medical errors. The cost to society of treating those who survive medical errors and suffer severe complications is estimated at nearly $20 billion per year.

This crisis continues because the medical community is not self-reporting and exposing its flaws and errors so that remedies can be implemented.

Our legal process serves a valuable role in improving the delivery of quality health care by exposing errors and allowing providers and hospitals to seek better means to improve physician-patient communication and prevent future mistakes. Health care providers at major medical centers have acknowledged that malpractice cases allow them to dig down and learn deeper lessons.

No reform should be implemented at the further expense of victims’ access to justice, patient rights, and health care safety.

Rather, we should take measures that encourage more transparency and accountability in the health care profession.

Jeffrey N. Catalano
Vice President
Massachusetts Bar Association