Doctors flock to Texas after tort malpractice reform

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Tort reform in Texas has helped ease the doctor shortage there. Since malpractice legislation four years ago, 11,000 new physicians have moved there, whereas, before, physicians had been leaving the state, according to an article from The New Republic.

Before tort reform, Texas ranked 48th in ratio of doctors to residents. Now it ranks somewhere in the 30s. (Thanks to Colorado-based communication and career coach Laura Benjamin for pointing us to the article.)

The tort reform capped the damages a plaintiff can receive at a maximum of $750,000 for things such as pain and suffering. There was no cap on economic damages such as medical care and lost wages.

As non-tort-reform states continue to lose physicians, maybe they will wake up and take note. Health-care providers fear unnecessary lawsuits more than much of anything. We practice knowing that, however diligent we are, sometimes there will be poor outcomes out of our control. We know there is a good chance we will be blamed for these outcomes, sued and go through months and years of defending ourselves against allegations of being a horrible health-care provider. That hangs over our head with every patient. I know there are some bad doctors out there and the state licensing boards should be doing a better job of policing poor practitioners. But the board members are afraid of getting sued by the bad physicians.

One malpratice insurance company I know states data that 25 percent of physicians in the U.S. face a lawsuit every year and that two-thirds have been sued at least once in their life. Surely there are not that many bad doctors out there.

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