Opinion Advocacy Needed To Improve Doctors’ Working Conditions

There hasn’t been much good news for the doctors of our Commonwealth in the last few months.
In July, most of the physicians in Massachusetts experienced a 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} hike in their medical liability premiums.

Additionally, the recently released 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) Workforce Study and the MMS Physician Practice Environment Index painted a grim picture of the situation facing physicians throughout the Commonwealth.

According to the MMS Workforce Study, 32{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of physicians surveyed said they either plan to leave the state or will leave if the practice environment gets worse.
To further exacerbate the problem, the MMS Index dropped 3.9{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in 2002.

A main driver behind the sinking index is the soaring cost of liability insurance.

But there is some good news to report. Milliman USA, a global actuarial firm, conducted a national analysis of medical malpractice claims in the 15 largest states from 1990 to 2001. This research demonstrated that large states with caps for non-economic damages have below-average medical malpractice

In addition, a recently conducted study by the nonpartisan Employment Policy Foundation estimated that limiting damage awards in medical liability cases could save between $54.8 billion and $97.5 billion annually.

The implications of these findings cannot be underestimated. As we work to win the hearts and minds of lawmakers and the public at large, we must use facts and figures to convey the gravity and severity of the problems plaguing physicians.

But statistics alone will not provoke reform. It will require the continued vocalization of one clear message from physicians around the state: “We cannot continue practicing under the current conditions, and this means patient care and access to care will be jeopardized.”

Our success in achieving medical liability reform will require sustained action and interest. We must build on the momentum created by our recent rally at the State House and the legislative breakfasts hosted by the districts around Massachusetts. To this end, the MMS is planning a number of grassroots programs for the fall, and we will be notifying our members as the details are finalized.

I urge all members to continue participating in these MMS-led initiatives during this critical period in the legislative process. I also ask that you encourage your colleagues who are not MMS members to join in this all-out effort to reform the medical liability system.

As we push for the passage of our proposal, it is the strength of your collective voices that will ring in the ears of lawmakers as they ponder how to save our health care system.

Thomas E. Sullivan, M.D. is president of the Mass. Medical Society. Founded in 1781, the MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the United States. Its goals include enhancing and protecting the physician-patient relationship and preserving physicians’ ability to make clinical decisions for the benefit of patients, as well as advocating for the development of standards for high-quality care.