After years of warnings from former United States president George Bush that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits were driving doctors out of practice and inflating the cost of US health care, the weight of evidence now points to preventable errors — not misguided lawsuits — as the real source of the concerns.
The real problem, says Tom Baker, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is "not too much litigation, but too much malpractice. ... The idea that Americans are suit-happy, litigation-crazy, and ready to rumble in the courts is one of the more amazing myths of our time."
In his 2005 book The Medical Malpractice Myth, Baker claims doctors, patients, legislators and voters have been misdirected and should be seeking ways to prevent malpractice. "It's not pretty to say, but doctors and nurses make preventable mistakes that kill more people in the United States every year than workplace and automobile accidents combined."
The best-available research supports Baker's position. Most Americans injured by medical malpractice do not sue. Most lawsuits are not frivolous, and courts efficiently weed out weak claims. Jury awards have not spiralled out of control, and lawsuits have not reduced access to doctors.
"It's really an epidemic," says Joanne Doroshow, who heads the New York-based Center for Justice and Democracy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer rights organization. "It's a terrible problem we have in this country, and I imagine around the world. Hospitals are dangerous places."
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