The best discussion of medical malpractice I’ve heard

The best discussion of medical malpractice issues I’ve heard in awhile.

The first Monday of every month, I help to host Doctors for America’s one-hour phone conference “Learn from the experts.” We have a nice, substantive discussion with policy experts. We’ve had some people you’ve heard of: Henry Aaron, Jon Gruber, Jeffrey Toobin, Timothy Jost, Mark Peterson, Barbara Starfield, Thomas Bodenheimer, Zeke Emanuel, and others.

Last night, DFA president Vivek Murthy interviewed Allen Kachalia, MD JD, of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He discussed medical liability and safety policies, and the impact of proposed policies ranging from malpractice caps to specialized health courts on health care quality and safety. I’m not an expert on this issue. I’m always struck by the difference in perspective between physicians and others in health policy. From an economic perspective, the impact of malpractice litigation and defensive medicine are probably overstated. From a cultural and professional morale perspective, the impacts are large. From many perspectives, the current system does not work well.

In any event, Vivek and Allen provide one of the best discussions of these issues you’re going to hear.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

5 thoughts on “The best discussion of medical malpractice I’ve heard”

  1. Physicians, like cops, are not accustomed to external accountability, much less a jury of their peers. They therefore view plaintiffs’ lawyers much the same way cops view the ACLU. Physicians also hate insurers, for similar if much better reason.

  2. Ebenezer, I think you can change this statement to: “Physicians, like cops and pretty much all other human beings, are not accustomed to external accountability, much less a jury of their peers.”

    You could make a case, for example, that parents should be subject to the same degree of external accountability as doctors (I’m saying this as a mother of two, for what it’s worth).

    But the problem is not whether we’re justified in enacting measures that control how any specific profession is practiced; the question that Allen Kachalia is addressing is whether those measures actually accomplish what they claim to do. And there’s evidence that they don’t, to the point of sometimes even having deleterious effects (such as doctors practicing defensive medicine, ordering treatment that is not medically necessary because they’re afraid of being sued).

    1. Depending on the jurisdiction (and the skin color and SES of the parents in question), parents can be subjected to way more “accountability” than a physician.

  3. Harold,

    Could you please provide a link to the interview which does not crash Firefox repeatedly?


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