It seems we hear a great deal of protest regarding the higher insurance premiums that doctors and hospitals must spend to cover the cost of medical malpractice claims, filed when they make an egregious error that leads to serious injury or death.
However, our Charlotte personal injury lawyers have learned via findings published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that hospitals actually profit when there is a surgical error, versus when patients emerge from a surgery unscathed.
This backward payout comes in the form of insurance payments, according to the study. Researchers discovered that on average, hospitals raked in an additional $30,500 in profit in cases when a patient developed at least one preventable surgical complication. It was about $40,000 for those patients with private insurance. The reason is that insurance plans pay more money to the hospital when the patient stays for a longer period of time and requires extra care.
Of the nearly 35,000 surgical discharges in a system of Texas hospitals examined by the researchers in 2010, more than 1,800 (about 5.3 percent) experienced some type of post-surgical complication.
An accompanying editorial to the study penned by Dr. Uwe E. Reinhardtputs forth the troubling assertion that the current profit motives could prove a dangerous temptation even for otherwise admirable individuals.
Not only that, but we know that there is ample research on effective measures that can help curb surgical complications. Methods to improve safety have been clearly identified - yet are slow to be implemented. Now, it appears we have a very clear answer as to one reason why.
This whole framework is called a "fee for service compensation." Reinhardt suggests we all take a cold, hard look to evaluate whether a new approach is necessary.
The authors of the study don't say this explicitly, but it's fair to infer that because hospitals could expect to take a significant financial hit by adopting efforts to reduce post-surgical complications among patients, there is a very low incentive for these institutions to take action. At the very least, it's clear that they are not addressing this very serious problem with the kind of vigor that they should.
This is evidenced by the fact that hospital errors are rising - dramatically so. Back in 1999, the Institute of Medicine released analysis indicating that hospital errors were responsible for approximately 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. To put this into perspective, that would be akin to four hug jets crashing every single week, killing everyone on board.
In the last decade, one would think that the medical community would have had ample time to boost safety measures. But in fact, the problem has worsened. It now affects one out of every three hospitalized patients, which is a rate that is 10 times higher than what had been previously estimated, according to a 2011 Health Affairs study.
As one doctor noted, "If medical error was a disease, it would be the leading cause of death" in this country.