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Physician, Heal Thyself

Doctors need to work on patient safety before griping about malpractice reform

TUESDAY, Jan. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Doctors who complain about malpractice reform should first take steps to improve patient safety, claims an article in the Jan. 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Physicians involved in the debate over soaring malpractice insurance have focused solely on capping damage awards without considering the larger problem of patient injury, say the article's authors, Dr. Stephen C. Schoenbaum of The Commonwealth Fund and Randall R. Bovbjerg of the Urban Institute.

"Physicians must use their abilities to make care safer and injuries rarer by developing, evaluating and implementing safety improvements," Schoenbaum says. "More active work on the part of physicians to improve care and reduce harm is clearly in the best interest of the public and physicians."

The article also calls for other changes to the current medical liability system, in which steep increases in malpractice premiums have lead to physicians practicing "defensive medicine."

The proposed changes include risk management training for doctors; premium discounts on malpractice insurance for physicians with good track records; subsidies from health plans in return for specific safety enhancements; and tools for doctors such as electronic prescribing aids and automated systems for the tracking of tests.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research group, while The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation supporting independent research on health and social issues.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about improving patient safety.

SOURCES: The Commonwealth Fund, news release, Jan. 5, 2004
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