Replace the current medical tort system with a compensation fund

LETTER — Posted Sept. 18, 2006

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Regarding "Courts split on medical societies' role in policing expert witnesses" (Article, Aug. 21): The law attempts to make process improvements by an arduous, inefficient, unscientific, impractical, emotionally biased and illogical manner, especially when it comes to tort.

Lawyers analyze and dissect events that may occur in a split second for well over many months or even years. The information is then dressed in emotion and presented in an argumentative and accusatory fashion by opposing sides with their own jaded agendas by experts paid to take their perspective sides.

The experts are not working together to ferret the truth but rather in an isolated, confrontational and conflicting way to pursue money.

The presentation is made to an assembly of laypersons with various and questionable amounts of understanding, common sense, education and integrity. These bodies of jurors operate whilst being isolated by time and distance from other juries contemplating similar matters. The result is often the generation of conflicting verdicts across the 50 states.

Those decisions unfortunately set precedence that in turn, influence, govern and confuse future cases. This cascades into individual, social and industrial changes in behaviors that may have even worse consequences riddled with impracticality, redundancy, expense, wasted resources, delay and futility.

We may have the best system in the world, probably self-proclaimed by attorneys, and it is true that I would not want to go on trial anywhere else in the world. However, having the best umbrella in a meteor shower leaves much to be desired. Certainly, we can do better.

Life is not crisply defined in black and white when it comes to medical outcomes. Those errors that are egregiously clear never go to court. It is the larger group of disputably gray claims that are resolved through the personal attack on the physician.

National funds could be established that compensate for unfortunate outcomes. Sure, it would result in a tax increase but the burden would be shared among all taxpayers who otherwise already pay for it many times over in the hidden costs created by the daily practice of defensive medicine and outrageous liability insurance premiums. Doctors would become patient advocates in assisting those with less than desirable outcomes. A larger share of any monetary award would actually make it to the hands of the hurt than into the palms of the attorney.

Medical mistakes could be brought out into the light in the hopes of discovering ways to prevent future errors. Patients might actually get the sincere apologies and explanations they seek from physicians. Those physicians who truly are negligent or just develop traceable trends can be handled by the review boards and either rehabilitated or suspended. Lawyers will get their cut, albeit more reasonable and truly earned, in processing the claims and through the inevitable administration of the plan.

Yes, there are better ways to rectify a bad outcome than go to court.

Mark D. Schmidt, MD, Springboro, Ohio

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/09/18/edlt0918.htm.

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