California has a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in cases of medical malpractice insurance cases. The state also provides a method for which consumers can find out if a physician covered by medical liability insurance has been sued for malpractice.
But do most consumers in California know exactly what medical malpractice means, and the difference between being charged with malpractice vs being found guilty, and should they have a right to that information? Especially in today’s age in which frivolous lawsuits against physicians seem much more common than ever, it is important that consumers understand the information they have access to.
The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) was created in 1986 to serve as a vital tool in the process of practitioner credentialing. The NPDB essentially flags physicians who lack the high ethical standards required for patient care.
The NPDB then makes the information available to hospitals, state licensing boards, professional societies and other healthcare entities. The organization is especially useful in keeping state medical boards informed of doctors’ records in other states – in case a doctor leaves the state and applies for a medical license elsewhere.
This sounds like information the public has a right to access. Wouldn’t you want to know if your physicians had a history of medical malpractice payments and disciplinary actions?
Except the issue isn’t that straightforward.
What most people don’t realize is the NPDB system for collecting medical malpractice insurance settlements and verdicts is not an accurate measure of the competence of a physician.
Even though the NPDB collects a variety of information, a majority of the data available is medical malpractice claims against physicians. But being sued for malpractice isn’t necessarily a sign of incompetence. This ties into what was mentioned above in regards to frivolous lawsuits and the fact that certain types of lawyers will take on a medical malpractice insurance case in California if they think there’s even the slightest chance of making money from it.
In addition, the NPDB has no threshold for judgments and settlements, which means payments are listed regardless of the amount. In essence, a $7,000 payment would have the same value as a $7 million payment — one mark on the physician’s record. Many times, medical malpractice lawsuits are settled because it is less expensive than the price of defending a lawsuit.
Which means settlements aren’t necessarily an admission of guilt.
In today’s legal landscape, when any citizen with $199 can file a lawsuit, a physician’s legal options are limited.This is why MyMedicalMalpracticeInsurance.com offers free practice tools to physicians to not only lower their medical malpractice insurance costs in California, but to also limit their liability exposure by pin-pointing certain areas of their medical practice that can be improved.
The NPDB also fails to reflect the risk of a given practitioner’s specialty. Some specialties and procedures are inherently risky. Therefore, the normal rate of claims differs among the medical specialties.
This lack of separation harms areas such as obstetrics and high-risk or cutting-edge procedures where a good job often may produce an unfortunate outcome. An excellent obstetrician (because he/she is so good) will often get the most difficult cases. As a result, they may have less than ideal outcomes, but that doesn’t make the physician less capable.
Since better doctors are sued more often, giving access to medical malpractice claim information could result in fewer doctors going into risky specialties or performing difficult but necessary surgeries.
So, what’s the solution? Just because the NPDB may not be suited to the needs of the consumer doesn’t mean that consumers shouldn’t have a right to know if a physician is negligent.
Fortunately for California businesses, there is an answer. The state of California provides public organizations with relevant, reliable, verified, accurate and contextual information about the competence of physicians in the state through the California Medical Board.
Anyone can obtain physician information from the Medical Board regarding licensing information or disciplinary action taken against that doctor. The Board provides this information through its Website and also maintains a Consumer Information Unit in Sacramento.
The California Medical Board keeps a wealth of information for consumers. By law, the Medical Board is authorized to provide the public with a physician’s address, medical education record, California license number, current status of the license, as well as pending disciplinary charges and completed disciplinary actions.
The Medical Board also supplies the public with the same information that the National Practitioner Data Bank won’t let the public access: malpractice claims paid by physicians in California. The Medical Board employs a payment threshold of $30,000, which places malpractice settlements in a context that is useful.
A final word to healthcare consumers — medical malpractice happens. The law recognizes that medicine isn’t an exact science and undesirable things happen in the absence of negligence. This is why we feel that physicians and healthcare professionals are not treated fairly. We believe that physicians should be paying a much lower amount for their medical malpractice insurance in California, which is why we try to offer physicians, medical groups and healthcare professionals the lowest price and best terms on their medmal insurance needs.
Click to request your free, no obligation California medical malpractice insurance Quote.
This write-up of California was put together by Michael Matray, the Editor of the Medical Liability Monitor