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As a patient, you rely on your doctor to recommend the best medication and treatment for you based on their extensive knowledge and experience. Most doctors do keep their patients’ best interests in mind while making medical decisions. However, some doctors may be swayed by payments–sometimes substantial–from drug and device companies. If a doctor recommends the wrong drug or medical device because of financial interest and that decision harms the patient, the doctor is guilty of medical malpractice.

The practice of medical device and drug companies providing gifts and payments to physicians is nothing new. A recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that over two-and-a-half years, physicians licensed in Massachusetts received over $76 million from those companies. This figure does not gifts of less than $50. Doctors received these payments for attending lectures, dinners, or conferences sponsored by companies hoping to promote their products, raising the question of conflict of interest. For example, if a patient sees two different doctors for a medical issue and one recommends surgery while the other opts for a wait-and-see approach, the patient might wonder if one doctor has some kind of relationship with the device and drug industries.

Currently a few states have laws requiring corporations to disclose payments to health providers. The Physician Payment Sunshine Act goes into effect in 2014, making corporate payment information available nationwide. Having this sort of transparency about financial influences on physicians will mean better options for patients. They will be able to seek out information when picking a doctor or making a decision about a medical procedure. Patients may also consider checking payment information when a doctor switches a long-time prescription medication from a generic to a name brand.

When a medical malpractice lawsuit results in a “catastrophic” payout, or an award of over a million dollars, the case often makes headlines in the media and in legal circles. In some of the media coverage, researchers even claim these lawsuits are frivolous and create a heavy financial burden on the healthcare industry. But a new study once again shows that these assertions are not only exaggerated, they are completely incorrect.

A group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examined the catastrophic payouts by U.S. doctors (through their insurance companies) between 2004 and 2010 listed in a government database of medical malpractice payments. These awards most commonly involved injury to or death of an infant, quadriplegia or brain damage resulting from a procedure, or an anesthesia problem. Their findings showed that though the high-profile cases attracted attention, the actual impact on the nation’s healthcare spending was negligible–the cases paid an average of $1.4 billion yearly, which works out to a mere five-hundredths of a percent (.05) of money spent on healthcare in the U.S.

According to the research team, the true financial drain on the healthcare system is the cost of unnecessary services, which can reach up to $60 billion a year. Study leader Marty Makary, an associate professor of surgery and health policy, says, “the real problem is that far too many tests and procedures are being performed in the name of defensive medicine, as physicians fear they could be sued if they don’t order them.” Makary believes this finding illustrates why efforts to create malpractice caps are misguided and will have little impact on overall healthcare spending. “It’s not the payouts that are bankrupting the system–it’s the fear of them,” Makary says.

A recent study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that as many as 3 in 4 patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are unaware of the infection. These patients would have initially tested positive for HCV antibodies, but never received a follow-up RNA test to determine if they still harbored the virus in their system. These carriers are at a much higher risk of developing liver cancer, but because they aren’t tested further, don’t receive the medication that could save their lives. Physicians suspecting HCV should order timely test and treat the disease. Failing to do so may cause serious harm and lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population and are particularly at risk. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all Baby Boomers be tested for HCV. In studies of HCV infections reported from 8 sites nationwide, the CDC found that 67% were from this age group. Additionally worrying is the fact that nearly three-quarters of deaths involving HCV infection occurred in this demographic group. In the past, HCV testing was reserved for those with known risk factors, like use of injection drugs, blood transfusions, or organ transplants, so it’s likely that many Boomers have never been tested.

Left untreated, a hepatitis C viral infection can be life-threatening, leading to serious liver damage. Liver cancer is the most rapidly increasing cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., and the number of deaths caused by HCV has risen to 15,000 per year, which is double the number from a decade ago. A physician fails timely diagnose and treat hepatitis C may be guilty of medical malpractice.

According to Nolo, an online encyclopedia of law containing a wealth of current articles on various malpractice topics, expert witness testimony is essential to most medical malpractice court cases. In many states it is required that a person filing a malpractice lawsuit obtain a medical expert’ opinion before they can file their claim in court.

Nolo explains that expert witness testimony plays an instrumental role in malpractice cases. In Illinois, a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer is usually required to attach an affidavit and report to the complaint verifying the a qualified expert has reviewed the case and feels it is meritorious. Without an expert the judge will likely dismiss the case due to the fact that the jury will need an expert witness to help them to better understand the complicated facts regarding medical malpractice.

According to Nolo it is a medical expert’ job to address the following two questions:

According to a recent article in the New York Times, more and more hospitals across the country are banning pictures and videos from being taken during birth in the delivery room. Some hospitals are even calling for all cell phones to be turned off and out of sight during deliveries. Hospitals that enforce these bans only allow photos to be taken after the baby has been delivered and permission is granted by hospital staff.

The article discusses hospital’ claims that they are concerned about the health and safety of the baby and mother and that they are also concerned about protecting the privacy of the medical staff in implementing these restrictions. According to the article, thanks to Facebook and Youtube more and more doctors and hospital staff members are raising concerns over their own privacy.

However, the media has pointed out that many of these photography and video bans are being enforced to protect hospitals from malpractice lawsuits. Their concerns come against a backdrop of medical malpractice suits in which video plays a key role. One of the most prominent cases at the forefront of this movement to ban delivery room photos and videos stems from a case settled in 2007 that involved a baby that was born at the University of Illinois Hospital and that suffered from shoulder complications and permanent injury. The Chicago medical malpractice lawyer representing the family used the video in a malpractice lawsuit that was taken by the father in the delivery room. This video allegedly showed the nurse-midwife using excessive force during delivery and it led to a payment to the family of $2.3 million dollars.

The insurance lobby, medical groups, and conservative politicians are all increasing calls for a federal cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. These groups argue that non-economic damages, those which compensate for pain and suffering and loss of a normal life, are directly causing the dramatic rise in medical malpractice insurance rates. If a federal cap on these damages is passed, individual states would be preempted from deciding this issue on their own.

Setting aside whether an arbitrary cap on damages in all medical malpractice cases is fair (regardless of patient’ injury or the health professional’ misconduct), do caps actually work? That is, do caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice achieve the goal of reducing malpractice insurance premiums or is there another solution? Based on the results in California, Texas, and other states, as well an independent study conducted by Duke University, the answer seems to be no.

Malpractice Premiums in States with Caps on Non-Economic Damages