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When it comes to talking about methods to lower the cost of healthcare, the discussion always seems to come around to reducing medical malpractice lawsuits and how this would be the "magical cure" that would solve all of our healthcare woes. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins debunks this delusion and instead found that the expenditures on medical malpractice payouts amounted to less than 1% of national medical expenditures.

The study leader, Dr. Marty Makary, associate professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says:

The notion that frivolous claims are routinely resulting in $100 million payouts is not true. The real problem is that far too many tests and procedures are being performed in the name of defensive medicine, as physicians fear they could be sued if they don’t order them. That costs upward of $60 billion a year. It is not the payouts that are bankrupting the system – it’s the fear of them.

In fact, the researchers looked at the National Practitioner Databank, an electronic repository of medical malpractice claims for Nationwide. They looked at claims from 2004 to 2010, and found that during that time period 77,621 claims were made and 7.9% of those were "catastrophic claims". Catastrophic claims are those that result in payouts of over $1 million and occur when a patient under the age of 1 is severely injured as a result of medical malpratice, develops quadraplegia, requires lifelong care, sustains brain damage or when a claim results from errors in anesthesia use.

Overall, the study researchers concluded that efforts to reduce medical malpractice claims should be focused on preventing the type of errors that cause catastrophic claims, which would lead to better patient safety, instead of focusing on capping payouts. It's about time that we take studies such as these into serious consideration and stop looking for the scapegoat (you can read more about the myths and facts behind medical malpractice lawsuits here).


  1. Gravatar for Robert Oshel

    The NPDB is a repository only for paid claims, not all claims. The discussion in this article fails to make the distinction. Most claims go unpaid.

  2. Gravatar for jc

    I bet every patient coming to the emergency room with dizziness gets a CT head. As a physician, I know that 99 times out of 100 those CT head scans will be normal. Those CT scans are ordered because if the ER doctor misses one tumor of stroke on a dizzy patient, that is the end of the doctor's career! This is all due to the well founded fear of malpractice litigation and it is a driver of health care costs. This is why, with Obamacare, we need to get rid of the current adversarial legal system and get specialized medical courts where the panel and judges know what the heck they are doing.

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