Medical malpractice affects patients, hospitals and healthcare costs

For healthcare providers, there is perhaps no word that elicits as much confusion, fear and anger as “malpractice.” It is often the topic of impassioned debate among political leaders, policymakers, insurance companies and nonprofit groups. It even occasionally informs the storylines of Hollywood blockbusters, which tend to portray the subject as black-and-white.

The truth, however, is much more complex. A key issue within any healthcare system, malpractice is a continually evolving and controversial subject. Although the effects of malpractice appear to apply mainly to doctors, patients and lawyers, any case of medical malfeasance affects healthcare providers at all levels, especially those in managerial and leadership positions.

How Does Malpractice Affect Society and the Healthcare Industry?

Medical malpractice is “improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment of a patient by a physician, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional.” In 2012, medical malpractice payouts totaled more than $3 billion (averaging one payout every 43 minutes).

The effects of malpractice on patients, whether or not they are actually involved in a legal suit, can be substantial. News or rumors of malpractice for a medical practice or hospital can be a turnoff for potential patients, making them reluctant to seek help. Concerns regarding negligence can make patients nervous and impede a trustworthy and open interaction — the cornerstone of doctor-patient relationships.

Malpractice may even affect the cost of healthcare. Already, many Americans cannot afford adequate medical care. Physicians and other healthcare providers have long argued that malpractice claims are the leading cause of escalating healthcare costs. The worry is that as malpractice legal suits become more commonplace, and claimants receive settlements for millions of dollars, patients will have to swallow some of these costs through higher insurance premiums and doctor’s fees.

Malpractice insurance premiums for doctors can also affect patients. The premiums can vary drastically by state and by medical specialty. Rising premiums may cause doctors to move to states with more manageable costs, which in turn will greatly influence patient access to the best doctors. Access to healthcare may grow increasingly limited in areas where premiums are especially high.

Another concern for patients arises from doctors practicing “defensive medicine,” a euphemism for the ordering of additional tests and procedures that are not strictly necessary but provide protection against claims of negligence and malpractice charges.

Likewise, the effects of malpractice on doctors and other healthcare professionals is substantial. Being involved in a legal suit rarely involves only the insurance companies and the lawyers resolving the matter. Rather, it is a great cause of stress in a healthcare professional’s life. It can make professionals question their abilities, which can in turn affect their job performance. In some cases, when the cost of malpractice insurance becomes too high, healthcare providers leave the industry to find work in a related field that carries less risk of litigation.

Your Role as a Healthcare Administrator

Those aspiring to leadership roles in the medical services industry must familiarize themselves with the effects of malpractice. Senior executives and managers in the healthcare field will need at least a basic understanding of such things as duty of care, causation and negligence — as well as the laws and policies regarding malpractice and insurance that vary by state.

Malpractice claims have far-reaching financial, psychological and social effects on patients and healthcare providers at every level. Loss of key staff members and the negative publicity associated with malpractice suits can do untold damage to a hospital or medical clinic. Furthermore, the rising cost of malpractice insurance can have a significant impact on the success and sustainability of a hospital or medical practice.

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for the challenges of a career in healthcare administration is through an online MBA program in healthcare administration. Some educational institutions, like Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, offer an online MBA program with a concentration in healthcare administration. This program provides a comprehensive analysis of the legal, social and ethical aspects of the healthcare system, including such issues as liability, consent and malpractice. Students will also learn about the regulating bodies for malpractice laws and issues. In an online MBA program, working professionals can schedule their studies around their personal and professional lives.

An online MBA program with a concentration in healthcare administration can offer future healthcare executives the skills to tackle the complex challenges facing the healthcare industry.

Learn more about the TAMUCC online MBA with a Concentration in Healthcare Administration program.

Sources: 10 Things You Want to Know About Medical Malpractice Do medical Malpractice Costs Affect the Delivery of Health Care? Medical malpractice rates expected to rise as healthcare providers keep consolidating Hospital Corporate Responsibilities in Medical Malpractice Cases Medical Malpractice 29 Statistics on Medical Malpractice Payouts and Lawsuits