Dr. Steven Jacobs
A January article in Health Affairs states that the “U.S. medical malpractice system is widely regarded as costly and inefficient.” As a physician in Iowa, I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why we need lawmakers to act on Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposals to reform our medical liability system.
What’s happening in Iowa and what the Health Affairs article is focusing on is the length of time it takes for claims to be resolved. As a member of the Iowa Medical Society Board, I know that malpractice cases often drag on for years. The time it takes to resolve these cases makes them extremely stressful for physicians, who are forced to frequently cancel appointments with patients to attend hearings and meet with attorneys. These cases are also hard on patients who wait and wait for their claims to be resolved. Patients with a legitimate claim deserve to be compensated in a timely manner.
Why should patients, physicians and our lawmakers settle for a system that takes years to resolve cases? Isn’t it time to look at what other states are doing to make their systems more efficient?
I think the governor is on the right track in asking lawmakers to examine reforms such as a certificate of merit, which would require a medical expert to review the facts of a case when it’s filed or shortly thereafter. This allows all sides of a lawsuit to find out at an earlier stage if there is a reason to believe a medical error caused the patient’s injury. Right now, 24 states have adopted certificate-of-merit laws and are working to make the system better for all parties involved in a lawsuit.
The Iowa Medical Society is also asking lawmakers to consider adopting pre-screening panels to review the merits of a medical malpractice case before it goes to trial. An effective screening panel helps shorten the length of malpractice suits and ensures that legitimate claims are resolved more quickly. In Maine, which has enacted a well-structured screening process, 68 percent of all claims are resolved within one year and defense costs decreased by 40 percent. Now that’s reform that makes a difference.
It’s time lawmakers worked with the governor to pass reforms that will make our medical liability system as stable and efficient as possible and take another essential step toward improving health care for Iowans.
Dr. Steven Jacobs, a Cedar Rapids ophthalmologist, is a member of the Iowa Medical Society board of directors. Comments; email@example.com