According to the American Medical Association (AMA), 21 states are “in crisis” and lack sufficient medical specialists to treat its population. In response, Doctor’s Advocate has been formed to reverse this crisis in Pennsylvania.
Doctor’s Advocate, launched Aug. 1, reportedly offers an inexpensive legal service designed to terminate frivolous malpractice lawsuits, and will push for legislative malpractice reform and raise public awareness of the crisis.
“Medical malpractice has reached epidemic proportions in Pennsylvania,” said Robert Surrick, executive director of Doctor’s Advocate. “Insurance premiums are skyrocketing and frivolous lawsuits are fueling the fire. Doctors are leaving the area. Physicians, patients, and the entire healthcare delivery system are suffering.”
According to the Medical Board, since May 22, 2002, when Act 13 became effective requiring Pennsylvania doctors to report lawsuits brought against them, 7,295 doctors have been sued. Of the 4,086 cases the Board has investigated, less than one percent warranted further investigation. The rest were dismissed.
Board statistics also reportedly show that 1,110 lawsuits were filed against physicians between March 1 and May 5, 2005. That is 17 a day for a 66-day period.
“This trend is simply unacceptable,” said Dr. Elliot Menkowitz, a founder of Doctor’s Advocate and practicing orthopedic surgeon. “Physicians are vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits because plaintiffs and their lawyers have nothing to lose by suing a doctor. Doctor’s Advocate intends to end this practice.”
Participating doctors who are sued will provide a copy of the complaint to a Doctor’s Advocate lawyer, who will reportedly pressure the plaintiffs’ attorneys to terminate the lawsuit under threat of a countersuit. The Medical Board will be contacted to promptly investigate and dismiss the case. Doctor’s Advocate will also reportedly contact insurance companies where warranted to reduce premium surcharges, and will seek decertification of medical experts where warranted.
“The prevalence of lawsuits is forcing doctors to leave the area or limit high-risk procedures,” said Menkowitz. “Now fewer Pennsylvania medical resident students are staying in the area, and patients are beginning to feel the healthcare delivery problem.”
Recent results of a survey distributed by the Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania, a study funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, reportedly revealed that nearly three-quarters of all graduating residents plan to leave the state, and almost half of those doctors said the cost of malpractice insurance was the reason for their departure.
“This poses a serious threat to patient access to medical care,” said Menkowitz. “It is time for our profession to be united and proactive in reversing this damaging crisis.”
Doctor’s Advocate is working with state legislators to draft legislation designed to produce tort reform. Surrick will also reportedly continue to speak to hospitals’ medical staffs and hold press conferences to raise awareness about the crisis.
“The public needs to know that the entire healthcare community is effected by these groundless lawsuits, not just the doctors,” said Surrick. “We refuse to stand back any longer and watch this crisis build.”
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