Medical Malpractice:

No Agreement on the Problems or Solutions

HRD-86-50: Published: Feb 24, 1986. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1986.

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In response to congressional requests, GAO reviewed the medical malpractice situation in the United States, including: (1) its problems; (2) the need for federal involvement; and (3) alternatives for resolving malpractice claims.

GAO found that medical malpractice is a complicated problem, and there is no agreement among major interest groups regarding the problems, their severity, their solutions, or the proper role of states or the federal government. There is no consensus among the interest groups that any of the reforms implemented in the mid-1970's has had a major effect. Concerns about various aspects of the present system for resolving medical malpractice claims have generated various alternative proposals for changing the system. Three of the interest groups believe that, while the threat of suits has increased the cost of health care, decreased patients' access to care, and changed the way physicians practice medicine, it has also improved the quality of medical care and led to more hospital and physician risk management programs to reduce the incidence of malpractice. Health care providers believe that the cost of malpractice insurance is too high, awards are excessive, the time required to settle claims is too long, and the legal costs to defend against claims are excessive. A consumer group expressed major concern with the lack of adequate action on the part of physicians and hospitals to reduce or prevent malpractice incidents. One legal group believes that the large number of medical injuries and meritorious claims is largely the result of medical negligence.

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