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AMA to the New York Times: Paths to Reliable Medical Justice

May 23, 2013 (published)

The New York Times
Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Enhancing quality in medicine and fairness in the civil justice system are not mutually exclusive goals. America’s patients deserve both. While the American Medical Association has been a leader in patient safety and quality improvement, the trial bar has opposed even proven reforms to the nation’s broken medical liability system.

Attempts to regulate health care with excessive lawsuits have failed patients by inviting abuse and inefficiency. According to a Harvard study, 40 percent of medical malpractice claims lack any evidence of either a medical error or patient injury.

The legal system’s culture of unrestrained blame and punishment must be reformed because it breeds fear and mistrust that suppresses information. The extra precautionary measures that physicians take to avoid being sued take a heavy financial toll on our health care system.

The current system creates such a contentious atmosphere that some physicians are discouraged, even by their own attorneys, from offering an honest apology to a patient when a mistake occurs. Until we rein in the nation’s broken medical liability system—and the fear and mistrust it fosters—we will continue to see physicians afraid to share bad news with patients.

Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD
President, American Medical Association