The Surge in Medical Malpractice Claims: Investigating the Reasons

2023 has seen more than $25 million in medical malpractice claim payments in the United States. Because of the surge in medical malpractice claims, several states have changed or are in the process of reforming existing malpractice laws. Obstetrics is one of the most sued medical specialties, with most claims focusing on harm done during labor and delivery.

The Surge in Medical Malpractice Claims: Investigating the Reasons

Medical malpractice claims refer to patients seeking legal action against healthcare providers. It could be because of negligence or substandard care. It is necessary to investigate the reasons behind the ongoing surge in these incidents to understand how medical negligence paves the way for malpractice suits. The following contributing factors must be considered:

Defensive Medicine

A prominent reason behind malpractice lawsuits is the use of defensive medicine. Doctors are practicing defensive medicine as a direct response to the risk of malpractice claims. Defensive medicine involves ordering excessive tests and unnecessary procedures to avoid potential lawsuits. 

It also includes avoiding high-risk patients and procedures to reduce liability. Specialties known for defensive medicine comprise emergency, general surgery, and obstetrics. These also include radiology, neurosurgery, and orthopedic surgery. 

Defensive medicine practices protect healthcare providers and hospitals. However, they increase medical costs and expose patients to redundant medical interventions. 

Lack of Communication

A lack of understanding or a communication breakdown often results in a malpractice claim. Patients who feel unheard or misunderstood may seek resolution with a lawsuit. Doctors and other medical professionals must improve communication with their patients. They need to address patients’ concerns. Providing clear and simple explanations for complex medical terms and procedures is crucial. 

A study revealed that patients tend to file lawsuits to prevent similar misunderstandings from happening to others and to get the answers they wanted in the first place. 

Clinical Errors

A large chunk of medical malpractice claims result from clinical errors. Doctors are not immune to mistakes. This means misdiagnoses, surgical and medication errors, and other mishaps can happen. Reducing these mistakes is crucial in decreasing malpractice claims. 

Birth-related Claims

Birth-related claims are a malpractice claim subset of its own. The claims often arise due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Sometimes, medical issues during the postpartum period also result in a malpractice claim. 

Birth injuries happen when doctors or nurses fail to anticipate or respond to various complications. These include infection, gestational diabetes, fetal distress or bleeding, and twisted umbilical cords. In some cases, doctors delay emergency cesarean sections, which can lead to brain damage in newborns. Often, when a patient is in labor and doctors discover the baby is breech, giving birth becomes challenging and may result in bone fractures. 

Radiology Errors

In recent years, radiology practices have experienced an increase in malpractice lawsuits. Radiologists who misdiagnose patients are at the highest risk of a lawsuit. Another reason patients file medical malpractice claims against radiologists is complications during a procedure or misinformation.

Addressing the Surge in Medical Malpractice Claims

Medical practitioners and institutions must take definitive steps to curb malpractice claims. If they don’t, it could lead to huge financial losses and the loss of clinical privileges. These steps may include:

Improving Communication

A patient’s understanding of their condition decreases the chances of a misunderstanding. For example, a patient should know the risks associated with surgery. So, there is a need to enhance communication between healthcare providers and patients. It can help prevent disputes that may land up in court. 

Quality Control

Hospitals and clinics are all about medicine. But this doesn’t mean that administration and quality control don’t provide value. Implementing a quality control system can help cut down on clinical errors. This system should include audits, performance evaluations, and ongoing training. A quality control strategy aims to improve patient care and prevent malpractice claims.

Legal Reforms

Many states have already begun reviewing and amending their malpractice laws. Reforming these laws can reduce or cut frivolous or unnecessary claims. It also streamlines the process for legitimate ones. Reformation can also improve outcomes for patients and doctors. 

Continuous Professional Education

It can take up to 17 years to become a qualified doctor, depending on the specialty. But learning doesn’t stop with a qualification. Continuous education is vital for doctors and nurses. Thus, they can stay updated with best practices and the latest standards and requirements. They are also less likely to make clinical errors. 

Mediation and Arbitration

It is essential to have mediation and arbitration services onsite in medical facilities. This can help resolve disputes and relieve the burden on the court system. 

Providing Better Health Care

The rise in medical malpractice claims in the U.S. is a complex issue requiring a lot more attention. There is a need to understand the reasons behind these claims. It will allow the healthcare system to provide better care and avoid lawsuits. 

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