My Desire for Tort Reform Does Not Mean That I Deny Malpractice Exists

I have written a lot on my frustration with the tort system.  If I had to summarize my issue in one sentence, it is that the system has moved away from assessing damages against parties truly guilty of substantial negligence or malpractice and has instead shifted to granting payouts to the injured, charging whoever happened to be nearby with deep pockets with the cost (see the tort thought experiment here). 

The result in this current system is that the innocent at best get high insurance premiums and at worst have to fight for years against ridiculous suits.  At the same time, the truly harmed fail to get compensation in a system clogged with BS claims, and the worst, truly bad doctors continue to practice.

But, as I said in the title, just because I am passionate about the tort system being broken does not mean that real damages aren't occurring.  For example, this story via Kevin Drum about medical interns:

In New York City residents routinely begin their day at six or seven in the morning, work twelve hours, then stay on call all night. In a practice that I think is particularly cruel, they typically don't get home until noon the following day "” several hours after morning rounds.

I have never, never understood why having interns practice medicine while sleep-deprived makes them better doctors.  This is fraternity hazing, plain and simple (not to mention cost reduction for hospitals).  I find it astounding that this practice still exists today, with the complexity that is modern medicine.  Astonishingly, most doctors seem to support this practice.  I find it even more astonishing that some smart attorney's haven't found a way to bring suit against hospitals for the plainly dangerous practice.  It is a great example of what I said above about what is wrong with the system - OB's are getting sued every day for birth defects they had no power to correct or prevent, but hospitals get away with this clearly dangerous practice?


Reason has more here.  They make the interesting point that doctors support this hazing because it is a way to deter doctors from the field, in the same way as does occupational licensing, thus raising salaries. 

One Comment

  1. markm:

    A few years ago, a lawsuit was tried against one of these hospitals for errors made by a resident on a 48 hour shift. A whole bunch of eminent doctors lined up to testify that lack of sleep doesn't affect judgment.

    Try this thought experiment. Have these doctors give a flight physical to a pilot that's been up for over 24 hours. Let them know that he's going to fly an airplane just as soon as they pass him. Do you think they'll approve of that??? If they do, tell them they'll be riding in the back - but it won't come to that. I damned well know my doctors in the Air Force would downcheck any pilot that was seriously short on sleep, and those airplanes didn't have any passenger seat.