Medical Malpractice Facts

A few facts from Ezra Klein’s Washington Post article today:

  • Congressional Budget Office (CBO) took a careful look at the evidence on defensive medicine and concluded that aggressive reforms to the medical malpractice system “would reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent.” (No one argues – at least not that I have ever heard – that the CBO is not an honest broker.)
  • I specify “direct costs” because there’s a separate question related to “defensive medicine” — tests and treatments doctors prescribe to protect themselves from lawsuits. The problem is it’s very difficult to figure out what is and isn’t defensive medicine. In a world where patients and their families want every treatment that might help and where doctors and hospitals are paid more for every additional treatment they try, there are plenty of incentives pushing doctors to do more. Fear of lawsuits is simply one of many. (I’ve made this point a 1,000 times but this is nice way to great way to say it.
  • Many medical malpractice lawsuits aren’t frivolous, and, if the U.S. has more malpractice lawsuits, it might be because we have more medical malpractice. The United States actually has a higher rate of medical errors than other countries. Take the clear error of a surgeon leaving a “foreign body” – usually a sponge which leads to infection – inside a patient. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, such errors are more frequent in the United States than in any other developed country, except Switzerland and New Zealand.

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