For years, influential figures in medicine, politics and insurance have worked to institute “tort reform” laws. They allege that America is too litigious, especially when it comes to things like medical malpractice. These so-called reforms promised to rein in the costs of healthcare by making it harder for patients to sue physicians/hospitals and by putting caps on damage awards.

The financial promises of tort reform have not been fulfilled, and many are now wondering if the proponents of these laws were trying to distract from the real problem. In a recent guest news article written by the president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, Robert Weissman discusses an astoundingly simple idea that was largely left out of the tort-reform rhetoric. Instead of taking away patients’ rights to sue and to be fairly compensated, why not just find ways to reduce medical errors?

It’s important to note that he’s not talking about investing billions in research for problems with no clear solution. Rather, Weissman is suggesting that hospitals implement already proven mistake-reduction measures that cost next to nothing (compared to the price of mistakes). These measures include standardized-care protocols and best-practices protocols. Something as simple as a patient-care checklist could dramatically reduce the risk of errors in certain situations.

Obstetrics errors, including errors that result in birth injuries, often result in the highest medical malpractice awards. A report recently released by Public Citizen shows that “hospitals and hospital chains that have undertaken focused, affirmative efforts at improving obstetric care and avoiding preventable errors have demonstrated dramatic improvement in performance,” according to Weissman. Some of these changes are as simple as:

  • Improving communication between hospital staff
  • Limiting cesarean sections to only those that are medically necessary
  • Discouraging early induction of labor except in cases of medical necessity
  • Encouraging all staff members to speak up when a problem is noticed rather than refusing to allow anyone to question the doctor’s authority

Medical malpractice lawsuits are lengthy, expensive and difficult for all parties involved. Yet they remain one of the only avenues for patients to pursue justice and compensation after suffering harm. Instead of cutting off access to the legal system, why not focus instead on preventing the problems that lead to lawsuits?

Source: The Hill, “To reduce malpractice litigation, stop making mistakes,” Robert Weissman, March 16, 2015