In direct contradiction to claims that medical malpractice caps are necessary on pain and suffering in order to reduce the costs of doctors practicing “defensive medicine, ” a recent study released in the policy journal Health Affairs found that many of the popular proposals suggested for reducing medical malpractice are unrelated to the practice of defensive medicine. In fact, capping damages for “pain and suffering” would do little to reduce defensive medicine spending.
The study found that although defensive medicine spending is less than 2 percent of annual health care spending, the author stated “we’re spending a large amount of money every year on a system that’s deeply flawed … Many injured patients never get compensated at all.” A second study in the issue noted found that any savings to be gleaned from tort reform would be low.
Capping damages for pain and suffering was not associated with a significant difference in the physicians’ perceived risk of malpractice claims.
With medical errors occurring in nearly 10% of all inpatient surgeries, capping damages only serves to further harm those injured by medical negligence.
As New Mexico attorneys concerned about medical malpractice, we believe more emphasis should be placed on reducing medical errors, such as missed diagnosis, birth injuries, and surgical errors. As this recent study illustrates, misplaced arguments about “defensive spending” do little to improve what matters most – patient safety.