20/20 on personal injury lawyers

John Stossel did a fantastic piece on 20/20’s “Give me a break” segment regarding John Edwards and personal injury lawyers (found via Galen’s Log). Some excerpts:

In hospitals, the lawyers have bred so much fear that patients now suffer more pain, and may be less safe because doctors are concerned about being sued.

“That fear is always there,” said obstetrics professor Dr. Edgar Mandeville. “Everybody walks in mortal fear of being sued.”

The Department of Health and Human Services found doctors order painful tests they consider unnecessary, for fear of being sued. And the majority of doctors say they recommended invasive procedures more often than they believed were medically necessary in an effort to prevent potential litigation . . .

. . . the fearful atmosphere that these kinds of lawsuits create has far-reaching consequences. Consider the minister who will no longer hug a grieving parishioner because of lawsuit concerns or the teachers who are told not to touch their students, or allow them to climb onto their lap for fear of lawsuit.

It makes it hard to trust job references. Employers can’t tell the truth about their former employees, as the truth might have legal consequences. This threatens our safety, too. It’s one reason a nurse who was killing patients kept getting jobs at new hospitals. The previous hospitals were too afraid of lawsuits to warn others that they suspected the nurse had harmed patients at their hospital.

This kind of fear doesn’t make Americans safer. Give me a break.

The lawyers claim we order more tests because we make money off of this:

I asked Scruggs if he thought that was accurate, and he said, “That’s probably true . . . but why do they do it? . . . They make more money, the more they do.”

Such superficial and infantile thinking. Perhaps in the world of law, where it’s about making every dollar, that’s true. Trust me, it’s not about the money. I would like nothing better than to practice medicine that advocates only for evidence-supported testing. Because this approach doesn’t stand up well in court, I cannot – and thus must order more tests to protect myself. Getting sued has far-reaching consequences for the physician. It is an excruciating several years-long process where your professional livelihood hangs in the balance. Avoiding these situations is my number two priority (right after “first do no harm”).

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