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PA sees drop in medical malpractice suits: Is this good news?

| May 8, 2015 | Medical Malpractice

Statistics can be tricky, in part, because they don’t always tell the full story. Without proper context, statistics can be misleading – and that’s sometimes the intent of those who cite them. Here’s a good example: The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania courts last year was roughly 50 percent fewer than were filed just over a decade ago.

This may sound like good news, because you could jump to the conclusion that healthcare is getting safer and physicians are making fewer mistakes. But like many other states, Pennsylvania has enacted what are called “tort reforms” that make it more difficult to sue doctors and hospitals when they cause injury or death due to errors or negligence. Therefore, the fact that the number of lawsuits is significantly lower does not necessarily indicate that patients are any safer than they were a decade ago.

According to a news article on Philly.com, there were 1,463 medical malpractice filings in Pennsylvania courts in 2014. The article also mentions that tort reforms were enacted at a time “when spiking malpractice premiums spurred new policies.” It’s safe to say that tort reform has been advantageous to doctors and hospitals. But what about patients?

One of the major arguments for enacting tort reforms was that they would reduce rates for malpractice insurance, reduce the number of unnecessary medical tests and ultimately reduce the price of healthcare for Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Medical professionals are paying lower premiums and hospitals are defending fewer malpractice cases. But have those savings been passed along to consumers? Sadly, numerous studies (in a number of states) have shown that tort reform measures do not noticeably lower the price of healthcare.

In summary, Pennsylvania and other states have made it more difficult for injured patients and their families to file medical malpractice lawsuits. Meanwhile, patients pay just as much or more for healthcare as they used to, while doctors and hospitals pay less for malpractice insurance and spend less on legal costs.

Does a major drop in annual medical malpractice lawsuits still seem like good news?

Source: Philly.com, “Medical malpractice lawsuits filed in 2014 hit a new low,” May 8, 2015