Posted by Bill Sandweg on 28 July 2011.
Myth # 3: Doctors are being driven out of business by malpractice suits.
This myth is a corollary of some of the other jury myths I have already debunked. It holds that there are so many malpractice suits which cost so much that doctors can’t make ends meet any more and are leaving the practice of medicine or are moving to other states in which the malpractice climate is better. In the first place, the number of malpractice suits nationwide has been declining for years. This is certainly true in Arizona where medical malpractice defense firms have been forced to lay off attorneys because they don’t have enough work for them to do. Malpractice suits do not exist in a vacuum. The attorneys who practice in the field recognize how difficult it is to get a jury to find in favor of a plaintiff in this climate and have become even more selective about the cases they are willing to take. Here at Sandweg & Ager, we turn down over 100 cases we look at for every one we are able to take. In addition, lawyers who do not practice in the field on a full-time basis have been burned enough that they have decided to direct their efforts elsewhere.
While it is true that some geographical areas are underserved by doctors, that is the result of the fact that the majority of doctors and their families prefer to live in a major metropolitan area rather than out in more rural areas. We have more doctors than we need in Phoenix but not enough good doctors along the Colorado River, for example. Some doctors begin their careers in rural areas in return for forgiveness of some of their student debt. Once they have fulfilled the requirements of the forgiveness program, many of them choose to move to the big city.
It is also true that some doctors are leaving the profession but this has much more to do with declining rates of reimbursement from insurance companies and Medicare than it does with anything happening on the malpractice front. As it becomes more difficult to collect from health insurance companies and as Medicare reduces the amounts it is willing to pay, the financial squeeze on doctors becomes more pronounced. They have to give raises to their staffs. They have to pay more for the equipment they need and the supplies they use. All this comes at a time when revenues are declining. It is no wonder that some doctors, especially those who can afford to retire, are deciding that it just isn’t worth it anymore.
Blaming medical malpractice suits for doctors leaving the practice or leaving a rural area may serve the financial interests of some in the medical profession and their insurers, but it isn’t true and doesn’t serve the interests of fairness or justice.