Tort reform has been legislated or at least heavily debated in every state, including here in Oregon. Proponents of tort reform (specifically related to medical malpractice) have argued that healthcare costs are out of control and doctors are practicing defensive medicine because of too many “frivolous” lawsuits.
Their proposed solution: Make it harder for patients to file and/or win a medical malpractice lawsuit. Sadly, tort reform laws have not lowered healthcare costs for consumers, but they have made it much more difficult to seek compensation for very real (non-frivolous) cases of medical malpractice.
In light of this information, many are now realizing what personal injury attorneys have been saying for years: The best way for hospitals to reduce liability costs is to improve quality of care and prevent errors. A study published earlier this summer compared two hospital systems that have seen similar declines in malpractice claims. One system’s reduction was caused by strict tort reform laws passed in the state. The other system’s reduction was related to a concerted effort to increase quality of care.
One of the study’s authors noted that “the evidence shows that if you do high quality care, it is well received by patients and decreases your medico-legal costs.” In other words, tort reform is not needed in order to reduce hospital liability. Instead, hospitals and physicians need only to focus on reducing mistakes and improving care quality.
If the conclusions drawn from this study seem obvious to you, you’re not alone. Hopefully, states that have witnessed the disastrous results of tort reform laws will soon decide that limiting patients’ access to the civil justice system was not a responsible way to reduce hospital liability.