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Using medical malpractice lawsuits to prompt change

Most fields are always changing, and medicine is no different. What is changing within medicine, however, is not necessarily techniques and skills that will reduce serious medical errors or fatal hospital negligence. Instead, it is often finding new medicines or new ways of performing procedures. Yet many of the problems of medical malpractice remain.

So, what could get the medical community to change? There are some people who believe that hospitals, physicians and other medical professionals would be more likely to delve into safety issues if they were subject to more high-publicity, costly malpractice lawsuits. There is even historical evidence that backs this presumption up.

In the early 1980s, anesthesiologists were getting slammed by a series of medical malpractice lawsuits. Time and time again they were found liable for serious medical errors, so the American Society of Anesthesiologists looked into what had been harming patients. After making some changes to working hours and monitoring, updated machines, and created safety devices, anesthesiologists have seen a tremendous increase in safety.

Not only are far more people surviving their anesthesiology, but the anesthesiologists now have one of the lowest malpractice insurance rates within the medical community. In essence, anesthesiologists are far less likely to harm you now after several notable malpractice lawsuits.

It is not quite clear why the medical community as a whole is slow to change, but it is. And that is particularly unfortunate, as it means that patients will remain at risk of serious medical errors until hospitals, physicians and medical professionals can start to institute some safety reforms.

Source: Forbes, "Malpractice Lawsuits Aren't Just About Money," Steve Cohen, June 18, 2014

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