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The Scope Of The Standard Of Care In Medicine Has Changed

Fri, 05/25/2012 - 4:23am
Paul Levy

Malpractice lawsuits are a necessary evil in our society. At times, they are frivolous, often resulting from a patient’s or family’s anger at a result that was not what they had hoped. Some are actually designed just to try to get a financial settlement. When doctors are sued for malpractice, it is a searing process, isolating and painful.  I have known several excellent doctors who have given up established practices so they will never have to go through the possibility of another lawsuit. That is a real loss to society.

But our legal system is also designed to protect patients. Malpractice lawsuits can be justified when a doctor acts negligently or makes a decision that is clearly outside of the bounds of the accepted standard of care.

One of things we know about quality and safety lapses in hospitals, though, is that they are often the result of systemic problems in those organizations. It is not that a doctor or nurse has intentionally committed a clinical error. It is that the way work is organized in the hospital causes errors to occur. For example, many hospital-related infections arise this way, and people die or are harmed as a result. This raises a question as to whether it should be possible to sue for malpractice when a hospital fails to act to correct systemic problems.

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