As a health-care provider I can’t think of a more pressing problem than that of tort reform. This issue is staring us in the face and demanding a collective swift, supportive action by the medical community. One novel idea that could serve as a valuable springboard for tort reform is that of a specialized “health courts” system.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for clinicians as a group to reach consensus when sorting out professional problematic priorities. But the real obstacle may go beyond that: It appears that many stakeholders are uninformed or misinformed about the health-court concept.
Sadly enough, these misperceptions stem from detractors who are trying to obfuscate the real underlying benefits of the growing health-court movement, which has been gaining notoriety and legislative momentum for the past several years. For example, trial lawyers contend that this no-jury system would infringe on the individual’s constitutional right to a trial by jury. However, all stakeholders stand to benefit if this judicial system is implemented.
Fundamentally, health courts seek to provide equal legal access for all parties involved in medical malpractice cases. Trial lawyers would have less reason to focus only on the “big award” cases because under the proposed new system, the use of specially trained judges would mean no more dispensing of mega-awards to plaintiffs based on sympathy or crafty legal maneuvering.
In this way, health courts would limit overhead expenditures as well as the questionable delivery of justice. In addition, cases would be decided much more quickly. Combined, these factors would serve to improve, simplify, and/or reduce the bureaucratic costs always indirectly transferred to medical consumers. And, the legal fate of a provider would be much less unpredictable.
Another notable difference between health courts and regular courts involves the degree of fanfare that would be involved. In my opinion, cases tried in health courts would get much less press due to the potential curtailment of the longstanding “lottery mentality” in our society. If this alternate tort system is implemented, it could spell the end of the era of erratic justice delivery and big payouts.
This re-examination of our tort system should be given the opportunity to evolve free of partisan interference. As stakeholders in the tort reform movement and stewards of the health-care system, it is incumbent on us as clinicians to educate ourselves on the health-court dilemma and to educate others by proactively supporting state bills that advocate the establishment of health courts.
The verdict — so to speak — regarding health courts is still pending, but the concept has steadily gained momentum to the point that a number of states have now started implementing the experiment on a trial and/or limited basis, and others are mulling the validity of this innovative idea.
In the meantime, we should remind ourselves, our political representatives, our colleagues, and the medical consumer that if tort reform is ever to become a reality and a means of repairing a flawed and inefficient judicial system, we must begin “courting” change. As President John F. Kennedy said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”