Updated 11 November 2014

The unseen costs of medical malpractice

We all know lawsuits can be both costly and time-consuming for all parties involved. Here are some facts about medical malpractice lawsuits, and the new software that might save the day.

An industry experiencing a boom

  • From 2009 to 2011 the cost of reported negligence claims rose by 132%. Claims increased by nearly 550% compared with those 10 years prior. Claims valued at over R5 million increased by 900% in the preceding five years.
  • The majority of medical malpractice claims originate in orthopaedics, neurology and obstetrics. Even lower risk fields, however, are subject to same rate hikes.
  • Certain specialist fields, such as trauma, orthopaedics and obstetrics, are experiencing skills shortages due to high risk of litigation driving graduates away.
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  • According to the Medical Protection Society (MPS), the largest indemnity backer of healthcare professionals in South Africa, its members experienced a rise of 30% in the average number of claims from 2007 to 2011.
  • The annual MPS subscription rates in 2014 were as follows:
    • Obstetrics (the management of pregnancy after 24 weeks gestation): R330 000
    • Neurosurgery; spinal surgery: R318 190
    • Gynaecology; orthopaedic surgery; plastic and reconstructive surgery; bariatric surgery; fertility medicine: R131 080
    •  Cardiac surgery; cardiothoracic surgery; general surgery (excluding bariatric surgery) oral & maxillofacial surgery; thoracic surgery; trauma surgery; vascular surgery: R130 000
  • Claims can range anywhere from between R3 million to R30 million – enough to put some practitioners out of business.
  • If current trends continue, the medical community will be uninsurable.

Why the increase?

  • Patients have become more aware of their rights.
  • Many law firms and advocates have begun specialising in medical negligence claims, leading to an increase in targeted advertising.
  • The prices of patient care packages have increased as technology improves.
  • The quality of healthcare technology is such that patients who have suffered adverse effects are nevertheless able to live longer.
  • Patient litigators are becoming more astute as to what they can legitimately claim.
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What steps can the medical industry take to protect itself?

  • The insurance industry can incentivise practices and solutions that help mitigate the effects of poor communication and negligence.
  • Leading indemnifiers identify poor communication as present in up to 70% of medical negligence claims. Doctors who improve their communication skills and better manage patient expectations can significantly reduce their risks.
  • In medical litigation claims, factual evidence is essential. Doctors must keep more detailed medical records in multiple formats.
Because factual evidence is necessary, practitioners may appreciate a reliable way to safeguard themselves. They can now use WordSure – a  new recording solution, unique to South Africa.

Lawyers Mark Patterton and Chico Bresler, saw the gap in the market, and together with IT engineer Henk Nel, developed recording software that could be used in a legal environment. The product is a recording solution that allows for full authentication.

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Once a recording is made on WordSure, it is automatically encoded using digital certification and uploaded onto secure mirrored servers in South Africa. This means that the recording can be accessed on the cloud anytime and anywhere by those with authentication.

Once uploaded to the cloud, the recording cannot be tampered with.

It is this authenticity that makes it so valuable in potential litigation scenarios. Because all the digital information is encoded to international standards, the authenticity of any dialogue captured cannot be challenged in court.

Its still early days, but WordSure is already gaining a lot of support in corporate South Africa.

Read More:

SA women suffering financial meltdown
How the funds of medical schemes are spent
Disabled kids less likely to go to school

Image: Law scales with dollars in cash from Shutterstock.


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