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My husband and I are both practicing physicians on the “front-line” (he considerably more than me) of the COVID epidemic. We often hear and deeply appreciate friends, acquaintances, family members and sometimes even strangers say, “You guys are the heroes. Thank you for what you do. What can I do to help and support you?”
Here is one answer: Tort reform.
Malpractice attorneys aren’t coming to work and risking their and their families’ lives but it is a sure bet that they will be fully engaged in the post-disaster reckoning we face – hell-bent on milking the health care system and punishing front line doctors and nurses for all they are able.
New York state has done the right thing to prohibit suits for physicians making tough decisions for COVID patients, all states should adopt similar legislation immediately.
That would be a good start – a necessary one but not a sufficient one.
How about protecting decisions that have to be made on non-COVID patients in these times? Patients who have been kept on life support far longer than reasonable may have to be let die. What about protecting the doctors that have to make those tough decisions so that a much-needed ICU bed can be given to a COVID patient that might benefit?
Doctors who are sleep-deprived, stressed, and overwhelmed are more likely to make mistakes and, no doubt, will. I am not saying that medical errors should not be identified and justly compensated. I am saying that there are better ways to do it than our current tort system that leaves these decisions to juries who have little experience and even less knowledge.
Start with blinded professional expert peer-review of the case to determine if there is justification for compensation and sanctioning. Finish with monetary rewards that are determined by a fair estimate of the economic impact of the loss occurred. Make lawyers bill by the hour for their time and disallow professional compensation based on size of settlement.
Every physician has tales to tell of outrageous jury rewards. Just ask any of us. The economic impact of our current malpractice environment is however not simply the cost of the judgments rendered. The real damage it does is in the costs incurred by health care that must be delivered defensively. Every physician practicing in this country has ordered costly tests not because she or he thought it was reasonably precautious but because there is a 1/10,000 chance or less that they could end up in front of a jury facing economic and reputational ruin being grilled as to why they didn’t.
There are more, many more, ways to say “thanks.”
Federal and state governments have lifted or lightened many regulations that have hamstrung cost-effective medical practice during this crisis. Ask your representatives in Congress not to reinstate them until a thorough analysis is complete to see if there has been any harm done or benefit lost.
Our public health priorities need a full vetting. Never again should we send our health professionals and hospital workers (custodians and cafeteria workers are at risk too) into a war zone without proper safety equipment. How about the Feds requiring quarterly assurance that the requisite supply of personal protective equipment, medications, and materials are on hand in every state before allowing any other expenditures on “public health?”
That is the kind of “thank you” that I would appreciate.Published in