For many doctors, the malpractice case against a family physician named Daniel Merenstein epitomized how the broken medical liability system drives up costs. In 1999, Merenstein, then a resident, saw a 53-year-old man for a routine checkup and discussed with him the dubious value of a blood test to screen for prostate cancer. Since the test leads to many false positives and pointless treatments that can cause impotence and other harm, neither the American Cancer Society nor U.S. Public Health Service support its routine use. Presented with the data, the patient chose not to get the test.
When the man later developed prostate cancer, he sued Merenstein and the residency training program and ultimately won $1 million. According to the plaintiff's attorney, the doctor should have ignored the evidence-based national guidelines and not even have given the patient the choice to refuse the test.
This is the same story told on This American Life last month, and it is quite disturbing. In my "to-do list" for health care reform, medical liability reform is relatively low on my list*, but this story gives me pause.
I hope we can address this and make following guide lines in good faith a reason to dismiss a lawsuit. For more information on guidelines and Comparative Effectiveness Research in action, go here.
*Caps are not even on my list, but there are many other things we can do that benefit patients AND physicians, as outlined in this Slate article, and by the AMA.
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