In our litigious climate where almost any patient is a potential plaintiff, doctors —– no matter how much they want to help reduce the cost of health care — almost always practice defensive medicine and order unnecessary tests and procedures. It puts their minds at rest and makes patients happy while preventing the outside chance of a lawsuit.
A recent study found that one in four dollars spent on medical care in Georgia is for unnecessary procedures such as x-rays, blood work, CT scans and MRIs. This costs consumers about $14 billion annually. Eighty-two percent of Georgia physicians said they practice defensive medicine.
And doctors too are paying the price in enormous malpractice premiums as they try to protect themselves from the next litigant.
This inefficient system is not getting any better despite modest changes to Georgia’s tort laws adopted in 2005.
Escalating health care costs combined with the practice of defensive medicine make for bad outcomes in health care for both patient and doctor. The only way to cure the system is to outright replace it with a new model that is compassionate to patients and fairly compensates them if they are injured by a doctor. That model is one being proposed to the General Assembly called a Patients Compensation System.
Patients for Fair Compensation is asking Georgia lawmakers to consider a model that would remove the wedge between patient and doctor and allow physicians to choose the wisest treatment for patients.
A Patients Compensation System would create a blame-free, administrative system where patients know their cases would be heard. Doctors would know they wouldn’t be hauled into court. The system would accommodate more patients who are injured. They would receive quick, predictable settlements. Doctors would learn about medical errors. The cause of patient safety would be advanced.
Like the workers compensation system which has been around for a century, a Patients’ Compensation System would allow a patient to file a claim for review by a panel. If the board deems “avoidable harm” occurred, the claim would be forwarded to a Compensation Board to award compensation. Checks and balances would be overseen by an administrative law judge.
The new system would be financed just as it is today, by doctors and hospitals paying the same professional liability premiums. There would be no cost to taxpayers. Patients would be happier because, today, fewer than 20 percent earn any award — and it takes years for their case to be heard in court — often only to lose. Under a PCS, the process would take months.
Patients would endure fewer needless tests and procedures. Health care costs would drop as physicians appreciate they would not be dragged into court. Their livelihoods would no longer be on the line with every patient.
A PCS would benefit patients by including access to justice for all patients; delivering more compensation to more patients faster; increasing patient safety; encouraging medical innovations; avoiding unnecessary tests; and providing more access to physicians — as more physicians will stay in practice, not have to worry about litigation and have more time for patients. Economic benefits include lowering health care costs, lowering employer costs and creating more jobs, as well as decreased state and federal taxes.
This winter, Georgia has the opportunity to take the leadership role in reducing the real driving force behind skyrocketing health care costs, while extending patient care to compensate medically injured patients more quickly and compassionately. A Patients Compensation System is a bold step that would put Georgia on the map.
Dr. Jeff English, a neurologist, is president of the Georgia Chapter of Docs 4 Patient Care.