The image of the local doctor ambling up to your door, black bag in hand, is slowly fading from memory. But rapid advances in online technology and the proliferation of high-speed connectivity have made a modern version of the house call not just a possibility, but perhaps the wave of the very near future.
Telemedicine – the remote diagnosis, consultation, and perhaps even treatment of a patient – is now so common that 15 states have laws requiring insurance companies to cover at least some of these services. Many see the increasing prevalence of cyber appointments as an answer to a perceived shortage of physicians.
This doctor shortage has been a major talking point for proponents of the bill package that would essentially provide complete civil immunity to doctors in Michigan. By giving medical professionals free reign to be negligent, it is thought that more doctors will come to our state. Putting aside the fact that having more doctors isn’t a good thing if they’re practicing bad medicine, the reality is that technology has made it possible for doctors to care for more patients than ever before. Nonetheless, State Senator Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw) is among those who believe doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and insurance companies deserve immunity at the expense of their patients.
Michigan law already provides tremendous protections for medical providers. With damages caps arbitrarily limiting the amount of compensation that malpractice victims can receive and unfairly targeting stay-at-home parents, children, and retirees, many otherwise meritorious cases cannot be pursued. Senate Bill 1115 would make this bad situation much, much worse by lumping the cost of household services into the capped non-economic category – essentially telling the caregiver that his or her services don’t deserve recognition or payment. Even future economic damages, like medical bills, will be reduced to present value at an oppressive rate and offset if the victim currently has health benefits – even if there is no guarantee those benefits will continue into the future.
Ultimately, the calculation of damages could be a moot point if these anti-patient safety bills are passed. Senate Bill 1116 would grant immunity to any doctor who acts in the reasonable good faith belief that he or she was acting in the patient’s best interest. Called the “professional judgment” rule, it would be nearly impossible to overcome except in cases where the doctor intended to hurt the patient. Modern medicine is supposed to be evidence-based and objective; the “professional judgment” rule would let a doctor who made a clear mistake with catastrophic consequences off the hook as long as he or she says “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Doctors insist they just want to be held to the same malpractice standard as lawyers. Frankly, it is lawyers who should be held to an objective standard based on authoritative legal literature.
The package of bills being considered by the Michigan Legislature needlessly put patients at risk. Contact the members of the Insurance Committee and tell them to put patient safety – the safety of you and your family – first.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.