What does medical malpractice have to do with living in paradise? Ever since moving to Florida, I have been aware of the ever-present commercials and print ads for medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys. It’s always been a strange and ominous reminder that every day here is not perfect for everyone. Sometimes things go terribly wrong. The attorneys who are ready to win large settlements for the victims can be seen either as ambulance chasers or saviors. It’s not a pleasant subject, but I took a little time to learn more, mostly in hopes of being able to lower the chances that I’d ever have personal reasons to revisit the subject.
According to a 1991 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, only about 2% of patients who were injured by physician negligence ever seek compensation through a lawsuit. Studies at Harvard University estimate that medical mistakes result in up to 98,000 deaths a year, more than twice the number who die in auto accidents.
Not surprisingly, Florida is one of the top states in the nation in terms of number of claims paid for medical malpractice lawsuits. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation state health data Web site, Florida residents won 838 court cases for medical malpractice in the year 2010. The only states with more malpractice payments were California, Pennsylvania, and New York, with a whopping 1,373. The total amount paid to Florida residents for medical claims that year was $233,141,300. The average payment in these Florida cases was $278,212. Once again, New York State topped the list in terms of total amount paid through lawsuits for medical malpractice: $667,168,500 was the total, with the average payment at $485,920. Illinois’ average claim payment was the very highest, at $626,226.
Florida law gives the injured party two years to file a claim. The lawsuit must be brought within two years from the time the patient, family member, or guardian knew or should have known with reasonable diligence that the injury occurred, with a reasonable possibility that medical malpractice caused it.
Three things must be proved to win a medical malpractice case. The first is negligence, which is the failure of the medical practitioner to follow good and accepted practice. Then there must be proximate cause, meaning that the action of the professional resulted in the problem, and that it would have been possible to foresee the injury caused before the failure to render appropriate care. Damages must be shown, which are the physical, emotional and financial harm done to the patient as a direct result of the provider’s negligence.
Whether or not a patient or the family decides to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit is a very personal decision and the fact that so many choose not to indicates that we are not as litigious a society as one might think. Doctors are only human. Some will make mistakes even when they are trying their best to help. But clearly there is a difference in the intelligence, experience, ethics and dedication of doctors, and in the standards of various health-care facilities.
It seems worth sacrificing a little “play time” in paradise to learn as much as possible about the health-care options we have as residents and visitors to Anna Maria Island, so that, if the day comes that we need care, it will be at the highest possible level.
U. S. News and World Report offers very detailed ratings of doctors and hospitals on line. Of all the hospitals in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, they rank Sarasota Memorial as number one. They rate it as “High Performing” in six of its specialties: gastroenterology, geriatrics, gynecology, orthopedics, pulmonology, and urology. The other area hospitals are not rated as high performing in any area. Eighty-two percent of patients who have been admitted to this hospital say they definitely would recommend it to their friends. This is well above the national average of 69 percent, and the state average of 67 percent.
Unfortunately for our island, the patient satisfaction ratings are not as impressive for the hospitals in Bradenton. Of those who have been admitted to Blake Hospital, 64 percent would recommend the hospital to friends, and 9 percent say they would not. At Manatee Memorial, 68 percent would recommend and 6 percent would not. The Lakewood Ranch Medical Center receives a more favorable patient satisfaction rating, with 77 percent recommending it to friends.
At least our area hospitals can be said to be close to the national average in terms of the patient’s perception of the experience, with a couple of notable exceptions that far surpass the averages. And often what matters most is the quality of one’s physician. There are some excellent doctors in the area. The state of Florida provides physician profiles on line, and U. S. News and World Report also selects and lists top doctors on line. Another interesting and sobering type of data provided on their site is the expectations for survival at each hospital. It’s worth looking into, but for the most part it’s also worth just putting all this out of mind and enjoying whatever good time we have left.
As the banners along the road in Anna Maria proclaim, this is another day in paradise. (Some would argue that it would be even more of a paradise if there were no trite banners cluttering up the real thing.) Maybe the little cloud of malpractice law firms hovering in the distance just serves to sharpen our appreciation for how good life is today.