The American legal system is legendary. Receive a minor injury in a car accident, settle for lots of money. The habitual use of the legal system to obtain big compensation for small injuries has sucked the medical system dry and driven up the costs of health care for everyone, right?
Not according to new research by John Hopkins University. In a study that reviewed medical malpractice payouts from 2004 through 2010, financial awards over $1 million made up less than one percent of the national health care expenditures in the United States.
This surprising information strongly counters continued call for legal reform to reduce payouts to people and families seriously injured by medical mistakes. Noted study leader Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., “[t]he notion that frivolous claims are routinely resulting in $100 million payouts is not true.”
Analyzing information from the National Practitioner Data Bank, the research looked at 77,621 claims and focused on so-called catastrophic claims, or claims that resulted in payouts over $1 million. Researchers found it is defensive medicine, the ordering and undertaking of excessive diagnostic tests to defend against malpractice claims, that is driving up health care costs.
Interestingly, a parallel study from Johns Hopkins reviewed similar data from 1986 to 2010. Looking at 350,706 claims, the research found diagnostic errors, not surgical or medication errors, are the leading cause of harm and danger to patients.
Both studies point to the tangled, expensive problem of proper diagnosis in the course of responsible medical care. These studies also strongly suggest focus on rising medical costs belongs on the improvement of practices and protocols in health care settings, not in reforming the law to further damage patients already harmed by medical mistakes.