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Medical Malpractice Editorial

After reading Dr. Wassim Mazraany's recent Community Voices, you might believe Maine physicians are an endangered species. According to him, Maine's doctors face financial ruin due to dastardly lawyers and frivolous clients filing unnecessary lawsuits.

y hoyFacts, however, present a different picture for Maine's doctors. This is maybe why Dr. Mazraany didn't bother to use any in his column.

According to the U.S. Census, Maine has the 11th-highest number of doctors per 100,000 residents of any state. The state's doctor population has grown 32 percent over the last 10 years, far outpacing the general population.

The facts show Maine doctors are protected, not threatened, by our court system. Maine has the eighth-lowest rate of medical malpractice claims paid among states. The Bureau of Justice, which studied Maine as well as other states, wrote that the highest medical malpractice payments were made to patients "who suffered lifelong major or grave permanent injuries."

NO 'DEENSIVE MEDICINE'

In addition, the Congressional Budget Office recently found no evidence of doctors driving up costs by practicing "defensive medicine" to prevent lawsuits.

Doctors are not being driven out of business by medical malpractice insurance costs. Insurance premium costs nationally account, on average, for 2 percent of the total costs of a doctor's practice, according to a recent study. Indeed, Medical Mutual of Maine, the state's largest malpractice insurance provider, just announced a $4 million "dividend" for doctors in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont because of "continued moderation of incurred losses."

I've represented patients injured by doctors for 27 years. I'm a realist, so I'm not waiting for people to show my profession the same amount of love they reserve for others. No one likes being sued, and my clients wish they didn't have to sue.

I do, however, believe in my clients. I know what they have suffered is real. And I believe in a court system that holds everyone responsible for their actions, including doctors, no matter how much they feel that their social status should exempt them from responsibility.

My clients are among the hundreds of thousands hurt by preventable medical errors. The Institute of Medicine estimates that at least 98,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors. Yet in Maine, there were only 44 medical malpractice claims that resulted in payment in 2005.

I know the claims of my clients are real. Each case represents an individual hurt by poor medical care, or a family devastated by an unnecessary death.

A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 97 percent of malpractice cases involved injury, with 80 percent of total claims involving major disability or death. The authors of the study said that their review of medical malpractice cases did "not square with the notion of opportunistic trial lawyers pursuing questionable lawsuits."

Despite the real injuries suffered by my clients, I warn them that justice will be hard for them to obtain. I warn them because, in Maine, the deck is stacked against patients harmed by medical error.

PANEL EVALUATES BEFORE TRIAL

For the last 20 years, all malpractice claims in Maine are evaluated by a panel made up of a former judge, a lawyer and a doctor before going to court.

In essence, patients must have a "trial before the trial" that has become far slower than originally envisioned by lawmakers. The screening process has become "costly and cumbersome" according to the chief justice of our state, creating a great financial disincentive for injured patients with limited means to pursue justice.

I believe we have real problems with medical care in Maine. We are a large state by area, which spreads doctors thin. Rural areas have been underserved for decades.

However, there is not a shred of evidence that this long-term problem has been caused by injured Maine patients holding doctors responsible for their gross negligence. The facts are undeniable.

— Special to the Press Herald

Donald Briggs C. Donald Briggs, III Feb. 7, 1954 - Sept. 7, 2014 Your dedication and hard work continue...