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WWL: An Inside Look at Health Care
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
Aired:
10/08/2009
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In this episode:

People on both sides of the health care debate can pretty much agree on one thing - the current system is failing

 

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48:57 minutes (46.99 MB)
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People on both sides of the health care debate can pretty much agree on one thing - the current system is failing.  Today, a discussion with and about some of the people who keep the system running - health care professionals.  We'll talk with Dr. Robert Levine, a neurologist from Norwalk, about his prescription for reform.  Even a public option isn't enough, he says.  The whole system needs "shock therapy".  We'll also talk with an insurance law expert who says the need for tort reform is greatly exaggerated... and best-selling author Julie Salamon who spend a year inside a Brooklyn hospital and who's new book Hospital explores the struggles and triumphs of America's health care professionals.  


 
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Listener Email from Joel

Thank you for bringing your guest on the air!

The conversation about health care costs has been hijacked by politicians to point the public's finger at Insurance Companies alone.  While the Insurance Companies are part of the problem, the primary cause of the cost of health care costs are as your guest said: Unnecessary testing and procedures, Malpractice Lawsuits and cost of Drugs and durable medical goods.

What does your guest think about the cost of Medical Education on the cost of medical care?  I would like to see the government fund a medical education system where the recipients of the assistance to their education would serve in the communities like the Peace Corps to provide low cost health care to those in need.  Without the staggering cost of Education Debt, Doctors would be able to provide cost effective medical care, which would bring the costs of medical care down and lowering the costs of insurance.

Listener Email from Sean

In his book, "The Medical Malpractice Myth", Professor Tom Baker, the former director of the Institute of Insurance Law at the University of Connecticut (and the son of two practicing physicians) points out:

1) That numerous studies over several years have shown that only a small fraction of patients who are injured by medical malpractice, and the families of patients who've been killed by malpractice, actually ever file malpractice lawsuits.  He concludes that there is no medical malpractice lawsuit crisis; there is a crisis of medical malpractice.  Indeed, he points out that though an estimated 1,000 people die each year in the state of Connecticut as a result of malpractice, less than 400 malpractice lawsuits have been filed each year since 1995.

2) He points out that medical malpractice insurance premiums, though high for doctors in certain specialties, comprise no more than 0.6% of all spending on health care in America, a tiny portion of overall spending, and nowhere near the massive spending that conservatives allege.

3) He points out in chapter six of his book that there is no credible study that shows that doctors are practicing unnecessary defensive medicine.  If doctors are ordering specific tests for patients because they believe that not doing so might result in a lawsuit if the patient gets sick or dies, then it is in the interest of the patient and it is sensible medical practice to perform those tests.

Listener Email from Gary

I strongly believe in the system we presently have but it should have one major change.  Neither lawyers nor patients should claim for any part of the settlement for the “pain and suffering” aspect of any law suit.  Instead the funds should go to a non-profit organization as decided by a jury not associated with the situation and the amount to be decided by a judge or law.

Listener Email from Ed

Your "An Inside Look at Health Care" program is very interesting. 
 
 
Many years ago my wife was a victim of what we are sure was a malpractice event.  It was obvious, however that we would have a great deal of difficulty trying to get tort relief for this.  What we were most concerned, at that time, however, was to have the problem (a broken leg that was set incorrectly) fixed by a competent surgeon.  We did not pursue malpractice.  As your guest said, an apology goes a long way.  If the original doctor said .... yes, there was a problem with the way the bone was set, we are going to have to rebreak the bone and then reset it we would have felt a lot better about the experience.  However, that doctor pretended that there was no problem in the way the leg was healing and basically told us to go away and that there was nothing that could be done about it.  Other (in our opinion, more competent) physicians agreed that the leg was severely rotated and needed to be rebroken and reset.

Robert Levine's comments

I am from Stamford and I am outraged by some of the comments that Dr. Levine made in the piece that aired today.

 

My daughter was malpracticed upon as a newborn, and as a result spent two weeks in intensive care are Yale, two weeks on a stepdown unit, six weeks on IV meds at home and three years in birth-to-three, followed by intense educational oversight. By the grace of god and incredibly hard work, she is fine today.

 

Dr. Levine states that we need peer-review panels because juries are too stupid to figure out whether or not malpractice has occured. In itself that is a grossly offensive statement. We have peer-review panels; it's called the state medical board, which investigates and upholds claims of malpractice, neglect or cases in which the standard of care has not been used. It is my opinion that before a malpractice case is tried in court, it should be presented to the state. If the state upholds the complaint, then and only then should the case proceed.

 

He also asserts that there are a lot of cases that docs lose in which no malpractice was committed. I reject that. It is simply too hard to bring a case against a doc or hospital for malpractice to do it on a frivolous basis. Moreover, as Dr. Levine surely knows, there is a lot of negotiation and discussion that takes place LONG before a malpractice case is presented to a jury. There are almost no truly frivolous cases. There are plenty of cases where doctors should be sued and aren't;  because attorneys won't take the case, because families are reluctant to live through an incredibly traumatic experience again, because families don't have the educational or financial resources to bring suit. We were fortunate enough to have the support, the resources and the knowledge to try to sue our pediatrician. We couldn't get a reputable attorney to take the case because despite the fact that the state medical board upheld our complaint, the pediatrician didn't kill our daughter.

 

Last, Dr. Levine states that medical professionals are reluctant to testify against other doctors because of fear of being sued for slander. If the professional tells the strict, unvarnished truth, there is no grounds for suit. Only if the doc lies is there basis for legal action.

 

If doctors in CT are practicing defensive medicine because they're afraid of being sued, if the docs believe they're being sued frivolously, if they believe that families such as mine should have minimal recourse when medical professionals make egregious, life-threatening or life-ending errors, the doctors need to have the professionalism and intestinal fortitude to police themselves aggressivley. Either they need to do it, or families will  do it.  It starts with each of us, and it starts with filing a complaint with the state medical board. I believe it is our civic duty.