The plaintiffs' bar is excited about a Wall Street Journal article (reprinted in the Jun. 21 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Schaeffer)) showing that anesthesiologists' malpractice insurance rates have decreased when adjusted for inflation. The tag-line: "Rather than pushing for laws that would protect them against patient lawsuits, these anesthesiologists focused on improving patient safety."
But the article fails to point out the revealing truth: while technological improvements and medical advances have reduced patient deaths from anesthesiology by more than an astounding 97% in the last twenty years, anesthesiologist malpractice insurance costs have dipped only 37% in real dollars. Could there be a more damning indictment of the total divorce between malpractice lawsuits and patient safety? Though anesthesiologists have improved an embarrassingly shoddy record thanks to much-needed and previously unperformed scientific research, they're still seeing about half as many lawsuits as when they were killing forty to sixty times as many patients through such elementary errors as accidentally intubating through the esophagus instead of the trachea.
Hospitals can do more to improve safety. But the random lottery of malpractice suits doesn't accomplish this goal, it only makes medicine more expensive and transfers wealth from patients and doctors to lawyers.