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Slow resolution hampers Kansas medical malpractice cases

A journal study recently criticized the way patient-doctor disputes are resolved. The RAND Corporation study in Health Affairs concluded excessive time devoted to medical malpractice cases was detrimental to patients, physicians and courts.

Researchers found that almost all doctors were sued for medical errors by patients, including Kansas workers injured on the job. Doctors averaged malpractice complaints once every seven years.

Case filings frequently took almost two years to prepare from the time of alleged mistakes. Claims remained open on the average of 43 months. Courts took up to a year and a half to reject cases, three years for settlements and four years for trial resolutions.

Doctors spent about 50 months - over four years - in defense of malpractice charges. Neurosurgeons spent the most time with liability claims, while psychiatrists spent the least.

The study was based on tens of thousands of claims from the country's biggest malpractice insurer, The Doctors Company. Researchers categorized claims based on physician specialties, injury types and case outcomes.

The journal study said many doctors coped with lawsuit fears by treating patients with potentially unnecessary "defensive" medications. The American Medical Association estimated $200 billion was spent yearly on these drugs.

Many doctors favor legal reforms that speed up the legal process for malpractice claims and cap plaintiffs' noneconomic damages. Separate health courts have been recommended to process cases and award damages quickly.

Researchers suggested doctors could remove some of their anxiety by being up front with patients about medical errors. Studies have shown the majority of patients want doctors to tell the truth about mistakes.

Attorneys often see plaintiffs suffer with serious health problems during court delays. Plaintiffs become discouraged waiting for court responses. Patients may be endangered by fearful doctors overmedicating them to prevent lawsuits.

Claims for medical malpractice take careful preparation. Patients can speed case resolutions and the receipt of rightful compensation by acting as soon as possible following a suspected medical mistake.

Source: forbes.com, "Medical Malpractice: Broken Beyond Repair?" Robert Glatter, MD, Feb. 6, 2013

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