There are many types of harmful medical mistakes and potential mistakes for which malpractice suits, and threats of malpractice suits, represent virtually the only control. The problem with lawsuits to correct these actions is that identification is often random and incomplete, and frequently the suits respond to bad luck rather than bad practice. The suits may do more harm than good in the following ways:
1. Interfere with and even destroy trusting patient-physician relationships. Physicians come to view patients as litigants.
2. Over ordering of invasive tests to prevent the long-shot, bad luck case.
3. Tendency to cover-up mistakes to prevent lawsuits.
4. Increasing the cost of medicine by many obvious ways.
5. Failure to distinguish truly bad physicians from those who were victims of bad luck, good physicians are lumped together with bad. We still can't tell which physicians are in need of discipline.
I am sure many physicians do try very hard to practice good medicine and don't let the threat of malpractice influence their practice. But this is the real world, and physicians are human first. For some doctors, avoiding lawsuits is very important as lawsuits are devastating in more ways than I can enumerate.
And this is troubling. Unfortunately, it's like democracy itself. Lawsuits are the worst system for controlling malpractice. Except for any other system that we have. I would like to see an honest appraisal, free of hype and blame, that would benefit patients and the medical system. We can do better, but first we have to recognize what works and what doesn't.
D. Valerian is a freelance writer interested in items such as medical malpractice