Emergency physicians join call for liability reform

High premiums may reduce access to EDs

The liability crisis in many states is "an overwhelming threat to our nation’s emergency care system," says Angela Gardner, MD, an emergency physician and board member of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) in Irving, TX.

ACEP reports that the average annual liability premium paid by emergency physicians increased by more than 50% in one year.

The average annual cost of premiums for emergency physicians rose to $53,500 in 2003, reflecting a 56.2% increase over 2002.

Organizations support legislation

High malpractice premiums and the threat of malpractice lawsuits may leave physicians and their patients without access to EDs and medical specialists, such as neurosurgeons, obstetricians, orthopedic surgeons, and cardiologists, Gardner points out.

Gardner addressed the issue in a recent press conference when ACEP joined nine other medical specialty organizations in the Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR), to unveil a national public education campaign urging U.S. senators to support federal medical liability reform legislation and protect patients’ access to medical care.

According to DMLR, from 1994 to 2000, the median jury award for a medical liability case rose by 176%.

ACEP reports that between 1996 and 1999, the average jury award in medical liability cases jumped 76%. In the last 15 years, there has been a 600% rise in the number of megaverdicts in the millions, according to the organization.

Gardner says the campaign is intended, in part, to educate the public about a risk most people don’t realize affects them.

"Patients are at risk, and they don’t know they are at risk until they get to an emergency room, and the ambulance can’t stop there because it is closed," she explains. "Or they do stop there, and there is no specialist on call."

In some states, many specialists are no longer taking emergency call, retiring early, or leaving for states with lower premiums, she says.

Many physicians are transferring patients from their offices to EDs to get them the medical care they need. That results in patients waiting longer in the ED and more ambulance diversions in some cases.

"Emergency physicians are dedicated to caring for everyone who seeks care, regardless of who they are, what condition they have, or their ability to pay," Gardner points out.

"However, this is not a problem that will go away on its own. It will eventually destroy the quality of medical care and patient safety nationwide," she stresses.

The main goal of the campaign is to generate pressure from the public that will urge legislators to address liability reform.

Sources

For more information on Doctors for Medical Liability Reform, contact:

  • Angela Gardner, MD, American College of Emergency Physicians, 1125 Executive Circle, Irving, TX 75038-2522. Phone: (800) 798-1822. Web site: www.acep.org.

For more information about the Protect Patients’ Now initiatives, go to: