As physicians in several states pressure their legislatures and Congress for malpractice relief, a Dallas business consultant last week announced he is spending about $100,000 of his own money to publicize information about malpractice lawsuits against Texas physicians and hospitals.
Craig Franklin, whose mother died from an alleged medical error about three years ago, said he launched the Texas Patient Safety Foundation because state authorities have done little to protect patients from physician error. The foundation plans to post cases on its Web site (texaspatientsafetyfoundation.org).
Currently, the only comprehensive cataloging of malpractice cases, the National Practitioner Data Bank, operated by HHS, provides information to hospitals but does not release it to the public. A handful of states make information on malpractice lawsuits available on Web sites, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.
The foundation reflects growing opposition to an effort by hospital and physician groups to impose limits on noneconomic damages. Providers got a boost last week when President Bush supported tort reform in his State of the Union address (See related story, p. 44).
Last week, physicians in Florida and Mississippi staged walkouts to protest the high cost of malpractice insurance, after similar demonstrations in Las Vegas and Wheeling, W.Va. Physicians in New Jersey planned a work stoppage for this week. Three hospitals in Mississippi put a freeze on emergency surgeries.
The New Jersey Hospital Association said hospitals' medical malpractice insurance costs increased 50% in 2002 to an average of $1.4 million. And about 40% of OB/GYNs surveyed in 12 states with high malpractice rates said they can no longer afford to deliver babies, according to a survey by physician search firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, Irving, Texas.
Franklin's group, along with Texas Watch, another consumer organization, is opposing an effort by the Texas medical lobby to cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 and limit attorneys' fees. It has sharply criticized the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, which has revoked the licenses of only 11 physicians out of 35,000 over the last five years for quality-of-care issues.
"Let's say this (foundation) adds to the dialogue of this national debate," said Mike Kelly, a spokesman for the foundation. "There are malpractice problems in Texas-and elsewhere-because there's malpractice."
The American Medical Association contends there is no correlation between malpractice cases and quality. Donald Palmisano, a New Orleans surgeon and the AMA's president-elect, said about 70% of all lawsuits are closed without any payment to the plaintiff, which he said suggests many are without merit. "It's the old `lawsuit equals bad doctor' myth,"' Palmisano said.