The Real Causes of Deadly Medical Errors & Doctor Shortages (NOT MedMal Lawsuits)

Andrew Cochran Mar. 27, 2011, 6:49am


Two Wall Street Journal articles from last week highlight the real reason for medical errors, which kill up to 100,000 hospital patients annually, and for the shortages in doctors across the country. And in neither case do lawsuits for medical malpractice, or premium levels for medical malpractice insurance, play any role.

The U.S. government reports that medical errors are among the leading cause of death in America today, and are the real source of so many medical malpractice lawsuits. The Wall Street Journal article points out that the occurrence is entirely the fault of the practitioners:

According to a two-pronged survey of operating-room and critical-care nurses conducted by their professional associations and VitalSmarts, a global training and consulting firm, 85% of 2,383 nurses surveyed said they'd been in a situation where measures put in place to reduce errors - including checklists or hand-off protocols -- warned them of a problem that would have otherwise harmed a patient. That's the good news. The bad is that 58% of the nurses said they'd been in situations where it was either unsafe to speak up or they were unable to get others to listen.

The report focuses on what causes this type of communication breakdown, including three concerns that are rarely discussed by health-care teams: dangerous shortcuts, incompetence and disrespect. Among respondents to a separate survey of 4,235 nurses, 84% reported working with people who take potentially dangerous shortcuts, such as not washing hands for long enough, with 34% saying shortcuts had led to near misses and 26% saying they caused harm to patients. Some 19% say incompetence or lack of required skills have harmed patients and 20% say that disrespect is making them seriously consider leaving their profession.

Hmmm, nothing about medical malpractice premiums or lawsuits in there. Want to end medmal lawsuits? Try ending deadly medical errors first, instead of letting "dangerous shortcuts, incompetence, and disrespect" go unpunished.

Then there's the nationwide shortage of doctors, which pro-tort reformers like to link to med mal suits and med mal insurance premiums. But many states already have limits on med mal lawsuits. As I posted last week, there's been a doctor shortage in Texas even after the state enacted a very tough limit on med mal suits.

So what does the WSJ article say is the cause of a worsening doctor shortage? OBAMACARE!! What a big surprise!! Promise everyone free health insurance and, POOF, we don't have enough doctors to treat all these new patients. From that article:

The new federal health-care law has raised the stakes for hospitals and schools already scrambling to train more doctors. Experts warn there won't be enough doctors to treat the millions of people newly insured under the law. At current graduation and training rates, the nation could face a shortage of as many as 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. That shortfall is predicted despite a push by teaching hospitals and medical schools to boost the number of U.S. doctors, which now totals about 954,000.

The greatest demand will be for primary-care physicians. These general practitioners, internists, family physicians and pediatricians will have a larger role under the new law, coordinating care for each patient. The U.S. has 352,908 primary-care doctors now, and the college association estimates that 45,000 more will be needed by 2020. But the number of medical-school students entering family medicine fell more than a quarter between 2002 and 2007.

So if you want to cure the doctor shortage, let's repeal ObamaCare! Longtime readers of my website, The 7th Amendment Advocate, know that I consider ObamaCare to be every bit as violative of the Commerce Clause as current med mal "reform proposals." But now the article gives us another reason to oppose it, as if we needed another reason.

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