These days, many complain of a crisis in both the litigation system and our health care system. And, some allege that the two are interrelated. Two blogs that I read regularly and highly recommend, Kevin, M.D. and Overlawyered, focus on these issues and never fail to raise interesting points.
An interesting solution to these problems was offered in an article that I recently came across from the Buffalo News written by Dr. Richard M. Peer. In it, he suggests that a special "health court" would alleviate many of the problems encountered by physicians today, including increased liability and skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums.
First, he described the problems faced by physicians:
Faced with increased liability and skyrocketing malpractice premiums, some doctors are giving up the practice of medicine, especially those in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics, neuro and general surgery and emergency care. At the same time, the current system doesn't provide appropriate or timely compensation to patients who truly experience negligent adverse events. Instead, studies show that it rewards only a small fraction of plaintiffs with legitimate claims and those eventually compensated will have suffered an average of more than four years of litigation.
He then explained why special "health courts" would benefit patients and physicians:
The distinguishing feature of special health courts - a concept advanced by the national legal reform coalition Common Good www.cgood.org - would be trained judges, selected for their expertise in health care. Dedicated solely to addressing medical liability cases, these judges would develop standards of care with the help of neutral experts. The experts would be hired by and accountable to the court - not to one particular side of the dispute.
Malpractice victims would be fully reimbursed for their medical costs and lost income (economic damages), plus a fixed sum that could be predetermined according to a schedule that distinguishes between types of injuries. A panel of experts would create this schedule and update it periodically.
Special health courts would also streamline proceedings and lower the costs of litigation. Most cases would be resolved within months, not years.
I would agree that the current system is far from perfect and, at the very least, needs to be tweaked. But, it sounds as if the jury system would be scrapped entirely under the proposed system--not a concept that I'm all that comfortable with. And, I'm not entirely confident that a fixed sum predetermined from a "schedule" of injuries would take into account the individual and varied impact that certain injuries can have upon a person.
However, it's an intriguing concept and is apparently gaining some momentum amongst legislators. And, I think that it's a step in the right direction. Medical malpractice cases are unique in their complexity and a special "health court" of some sort might be just what the doctor ordered.