I recently saw a convention brochure advertising a four-day series of workshops on a range of health related topics. Attendees could learn about external defibrillators, the antibiotic Levaquin and denture cream, among many other issues. Other sessions focused on topics such as aviation law and Chinese drywall.
You may be wondering what antibiotics, denture cream and Chinese drywall have in common. These topics all feature in "litigation group" sessions offered during the American Association of Justice's 2011 winter convention in Miami.
For trial lawyers, it must be pretty appealing to spend four days in Florida with the option to attend a few of the 20+ litigation group meetings. Indeed, attendees will also have the opportunity to review which new "litigation groups" to develop. Three of the five proposed groups focus on health care litigation.
I'm not naïve about the amount of money to be made in the lawsuit trade, yet I'm amazed that a meeting industry has been built around identifying the latest and greatest lawsuit targets.
When it comes to suing Illinois doctors, however, the old playbook works just fine. It's clear that trial lawyers just don't think there's a medical liability problem in our state. This is apparent from the trial lawyer reaction to the news coverage of the release of the Northwestern University workforce study, which determined that half of the doctors trained in Illinois leave after residency. Two-thirds of those who depart cite Illinois' lawsuit climate as a contributing factor for their decision to leave.
The trial lawyers countered the Northwestern study results with two notions. First, they alleged that the research couldn't possibly be "legitimate" since it involved a survey (a strange point to make). Second, they rehashed the argument that Illinois doesn't have a doctor retention problem because the number of medical licenses on file has increased over time.
We've debunked the latter assertion many times, yet the point is obviously lost on the trial lawyers. There's simply no correlation between the number of licenses in a state and the availability of medical care. They will not acknowledge there is a problem in our courts or in communities when it comes to attracting and retaining physicians.
The good news: Many observers don't believe what the trial lawyers are selling. My local paper just ran a supportive editorial calling for a national medical liability reform law to address the "patchwork approach" which leaves states like Illinois at a disadvantage for recruiting new doctors.
We obviously shouldn't wait for a federal solution when there are innovations close to home. One example is the "Seven Pillars" project currently under study at the UIC School of Medicine. Led by ISMS member Timothy McDonald, MD, JD, this study aims to bridge the gap between patient safety and medical liability concerns.
I also look forward to ISMS' re-introduction of some provisions from our 2005 medical liability reform law, now overturned, that should help restore some fairness to our courts. Remember that we were only successful in 2005 because we had widespread public support. Be sure to talk to your patients about the realities of medical practice in Illinois.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being considered part of a "litigation group."