In a research study published on October 16, 2014 in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was reported that in three U.S. states that had passed medical malpractice reform legislation to require a greater showing of medical negligence in order for patients injured by emergency room physicians to recover compensation for their injuries, emergency room physicians have changed little in the number of CT scans and the number of MRI scans they order, the per-visit charges for emergency department care have changed little, and the rate of admissions from the emergency department has experienced very little change.
The three U.S. states that raised the standard for establishing emergency room liability for medical negligence claims to gross negligence from simple negligence are Texas, which adopted the “reform” in 2003, Georgia, which made the change in 2005, and South Carolina, which raised the hurdle facing emergency room medical malpractice victims in 2005.
The argument advanced for increasing the protection enjoyed by emergency room physicians facing medical negligence claims was that ER physicians were practicing “defensive medicine” in which they ordered tests and other care that was unnecessary due to their fear of medical malpractice claims. The three states that made the change were eager to impose the medical malpractice reform measure that the states believed would result in substantial health care savings by eliminating defensive medicine costs.
The study investigated all visits to emergency departments from 1997 through 2011 in Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, as well as in six neighboring states that had not imposed the gross negligence standard for emergency room physicians, using a 5% random sample of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries. The study compared the patient-level outcomes (i.e., the use of CT scans, the use of MRI scans, the charges for per-visit in the emergency department, and the rate of hospital admissions through the emergency department) in all nine states during the pre- and post-reform time periods.
The study determined that there was no “policy-attributable reduction in the intensity of care” in “eight of the nine state-outcome combinations tested” – there was no reduction in the rates of CT scans and MRI scans and there was no reduction in hospital admission rates in the three reform states. With regard to the charges for emergency department visits, there was no reduction in Texas or in South Carolina (Georgia experienced a 3.6% reduction).
Based on the experiences in Texas, in Georgia, and in South Carolina after each imposed much more stringent requirements on medical malpractice victims in order for them to recover compensatory damages for their injuries suffered as a result of emergency room physician negligence, it would appear that the unsupported justification for added protection for negligent emergency room physicians was a false promise that has needlessly harmed patients.
If you or a loved one were injured due to the medical negligence of an emergency room physician in the United States, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your emergency room malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice claim against an emergency room physician, if appropriate.
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