Until federal health reform addresses frivolous lawsuits against doctors, the country won’t be able to slow rising medical costs, the physician leader of a national malpractice firm said.
“Defensive medicine — it’s prevalent to the point of being universal,” said Dr. Richard Anderson, chairman and chief executive of The Doctors Co., the nation’s largest physician-owned malpractice insurer.
“The medical malpractice litigation system is so oppressive that virtually all medicine is practiced in the shadow of malpractice litigation,” he said.
Anderson will be a featured speaker during the Summa Western Reserve Hospital annual medical staff meeting Thursday night at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron.
The physician executive will be giving a speech to more than 150 doctors from the Cuyahoga Falls hospital titled Medical Malpractice Litigation and Defensive Medicine: Breaking the Chains.
Anderson, an oncologist, has been CEO since 2003 of the California-based company, which insures about 75,000 doctors nationwide, including about 5,000 in Ohio.
Anderson acknowledged malpractice insurance rates have dropped substantially in Ohio since 2003, when the state legislature approved caps — ranging from $500,000 to $1 million — on damage awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.
Before the limits were passed, doctors were being hit in the early 2000s with huge premium increases, especially if they practiced in high-risk specialties.
“The situation has improved and rates have come down 30 to 40 percent since those reforms were enacted,” Anderson said. “So they did exactly what they were intended to do.”
However, he said, rates are still “onerous.”
“It’s still tens of thousands of dollars per doctor,” he said. “The situation is definitely better, but it’s still awful.”
Neurosurgeons, for example, still have a one in five chance of being sued every year, said Anderson.
Doctors end up winning about 80 percent of claims against them, he said. “There really needs to be an alternative to the system.”
Until things change, he said, doctors will continue to practice defensive medicine, or ordering extra tests and treatments to protect themselves from litigation.
He quoted a recent national study that found 38 percent of all imaging studies were defensive in nature.
“That’s shocking,” he said, “but it’s real.”
Career night planned
The annual Healthcare Career Night will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at North High School for area students in grades 6 through 12 and their parents.
Students will be able to get information about a wide range of health-care careers, including biomedical engineering, speech therapy, respiratory care, social work, medical research, pharmacy, sports medicine, nursing, occupational and physical therapy and other areas.
The event is sponsored by members of Healthcare in Progress, which brings together area hospitals and universities with Akron Public Schools to encourage students to consider health-care careers.
For more information, visit www.apscareers.com or call 330-761-3131.
A Cuyahoga Falls orthopedic surgeon recently was selected for the board of the directors of the American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopedics.
Dr. Gregory Hill is a physician with Western Reserve Orthopedic & Upper Extremity Surgery, a division of Unity Health Network.
Hill is a board-certified orthopedic physician with expertise in arthritis, traumatic upper extremity injuries and microscopical reconstruction.
A retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and the Ohio Army National Guard, Hill’s service included two tours of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.