Opinion: Physicians, hospitals must do a better job of policing themselves

Physicians make mistakes, and the current chain of accountability for those errors is murky at best, according to a New York Times opinion piece by lawyers Thomas Moore and Steve Cohen.

"Hospitals are dangerous places," the authors wrote. "By 2011, a study in the journal Health Affairs estimated that the number of avoidable deaths was probably 10 times higher [than estimated in a 1999 study]. Hundreds of thousands more patients are seriously injured through negligence. Doctors and hospitals are doing a poor job of policing themselves, yet they have been successful at keeping anyone else from doing it. "

The authors use the example of a failed Albany, N.Y., legislation called Lavern's Law, named for a patient with a curable form of lung cancer that went untreated after physicians failed to alert her to a mass on an X-ray, to anchor their commentary. Currently in New York a victim only has two and half years from the time of a medical error to bring a lawsuit against the negligent party, whereas in many states that window of time begins at the discovery of the error.

Lavern's Law sought to adopt that provision in New York, but Mr. Moore and Mr. Cohen contend that malpractice cases resulting from the passage of the bill would still have been minimal.

"Of the hundreds of possible cases we evaluate every year, only a handful are outside the statute of limitations," the authors wrote. "But it is still hard to tell those victims that neither we nor the judicial system can help them."

Read the full post here.

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