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Trumbull doctors: Malpractice costs threatening health care

Published: Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 12:08 a.m.



By Ed Runyan



About 30 Trumbull County physicians participated in a news conference Wednesday at Avalon Inn to protest the way the legal systems in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, as well as across the state, treat medical malpractice lawsuits.

They said large jury awards, resulting in high-cost medical malpractice insurance for the doctors, are likely to discourage physicians from practicing in the Mahoning Valley.

“Health care in Trumbull County is on life support,” said Dr. Morris Pulliam, president of the medical staff at ValleyCare Trumbull Memorial Hospital. “We must all address the eroding access to quality health care that all of us may suffer as a result of recent legal actions taken against local physicians.”

Dr. Pulliam and others declined to name specific legal cases that concern them, but they referred indirectly to the case of Dr. Tara Shipman of Cortland, a pediatrician who was sued in Trumbull County for malpractice.

A child Shipman delivered at Trumbull Memorial was born with brain damage that attorneys argued could have been prevented if Dr. Shipman would have performed a caesarian section.

In December 2010, a jury awarded the patient and her family a record $13.9 million after a 15-day trial.

One thing that really bothered the physicians about that case was that a judge authorized the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office to seize property at Dr. Shipman’s house in September 2011 to collect some of the money the jury awarded.

Insurance typically covers a physician for about $1 million, and anything above that can be charged to the physician, one doctor said.

“Late last year an unusual set of circumstances occurred in which a local court authorized law enforcement to take possession of a Trumbull County doctor’s private property against a judgment that was still under appeal,” Dr. Pulliam said.

“While the order was ultimately withdrawn by the court, it’s this kind of action that sets a dangerous precedent and creates an environment that’s both nonproductive and destructive.”

Dr. Pulliam said a Trumbull County neurosurgeon like him has to pay $160,000 per year for malpractice insurance, but the cost is $60,0000 to $70,0000 in Cincinnati and $25,000 to $30,000 in Montana.

Dr. Richard Loges, president of the Trumbull County Medical Society, said medical liability insurance in Trumbull and Mahoning counties is the third- and fourth-highest in the state behind only Cuyahoga and Lorain counties.

The average cost in Trumbull and Mahoning counties for insurance for obstetricians and neurosurgeons is $108,000 per year — 25 percent to 40 percent higher than the majority of the state, Dr. Loges said.

“At these figures, we could be headed for a day that women may no longer be able to deliver their babies in Trumbull County,” Dr. Loges said.

“Obstetricians will no longer be able to afford malpractice insurance.”

Loges said one solution would be for the Ohio Legislature to establish a “formula” or “cap” on the amount of money a jury can award.

“You need to take the emotion out of it,” Dr. Loges said, adding that juries have a hard time knowing how to judge the validity of the testimony of medical experts.

Dr. Robert Gurdak, medical director and chairman of the Department of Pathology at Trumbull Memorial, said excessive jury awards also have the unintended consequence of increasing the cost and discomfort of medical care.

When doctors are overly concerned about getting sued, they order more tests.

“It’s really not the way patients want to be treated,” Dr. Gurdak said, because extra tests lead to extra discomfort, and extra X-rays lead to extra radiation.

Extra tests also lead to additional “false-positive” results that can only be verified or corrected through even more tests.


1RightofLeft(41 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

According to Atty. Crisan himself, 992 out of every 1,000 malpractice suits filed are frivoulous, without merit, and don't yield a verdict for the patient/complainant. It is obvious where the problem is. Attorneys file frivolous lawsuits hoping the insurance companies will settle because that is cheaper than defending against the bogus charges. I believe it is time to once again outlaw advertising by lawyers and law firms. Further, I think that the party failing to obtain a judgement should be required to pay all costs for the courts and the defendants. (Now be honest with yourselves, aren't you a little tired of seeing and hearing a certain Youngstown attorney/politician everytime you turn on the TV or radio.)

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2CassAnn(252 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

How about these Doctors stop practicing medicine just to fit the hours of 9-5, actually pay attention to their patients and talk to them (what a concept) and bring down their own rates of malpractice??? I dont feel bad for a doctor that loses their personal property for permanently maiming or killing someone else with their negligence. You lost "stuff." That person lost their life or livelihood. Better health care for your patients will bring down the need for malpractice lawsuits to begin with.

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3lee(544 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Cass what are you going to do when all the doctors move out??

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4Photoman(1070 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Not to worry, Obamacare will remedy all problems.

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5CassAnn(252 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Lee, If medical care is the same across the board, why would doctors move? It is a scare tactic trying to get their insurance premiums to go down. You see the houses they live in, the cars they drive, etc. They are not starving.

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6DanBrown11(5 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

What are other ares of the country doing to keep obstetricians and neurosurgeons insurance so much lower than ours and why cant we use that blueprint to help our situation?

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7hutzulplumber(1 comment)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

so that means when doctors in town did not do a treatment for cancer on my wife the right way thats it,but when i took her out of town to another hospital and they said it wasnt done the right way and its been 3 1/2 years and she is cancer free,who pays for my time of finding the right answer,or when my mother went to the hospital and they gave her blood thinning meds then checked her out to find out that she had a torn aorta and went into surgery and lasted a week due to problems in surgery i should have sued but i didnt, so when you say the cost of insurance is high then tell us what the cost of life is worth,tell us what your net income is after you pay your insurance,i can bet its not under 40,000 year !

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8avenuegirl(4 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

This is SO NOT true. I have worked in the legal field more than 20 years and I agree with Marty White. For every 10 people who call only 1-2 even make it past an initial consultation. This is just another tactic that the doctors use to make you feel sorry for them while they rake in the dough. Mistakes happen and when they do then people should be compensated, fair & square. A lot of people probably wouldn't see an attorney if the doctor's bedside manners were better and they didn't shuffle you off like cattle and had better bedside manner.

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9Sunny(25 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm sorry, but I don't have any empathy for the physicians in this area. They brought all of this on themselves! All they want to do is see you for 2 minutes, take multiple unwarranted tests to appease the insurance companies and then bill you hundreds of dollars for spending less than 5 minutes with you. Maybe the doctors here SHOULD leave! It would give us an opportunity to bring in physicians from other areas who might even have a nice bedside manner and INTEGRITY! Remember when doctors were actually admired?

The doctors in this area are behind the times. I honestly believe "new blood" will benefit our community. Besides, I am sick to death of being double or triple booked by every doctor I see and then having to sit in a waiting room full of sick people! If they want to bill for missed appointments, that's fine with me - as long as I am the ONLY person missing the appointment.

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10JoeFromHubbard(1403 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

(avenuegirl) >>> For every 10 people who call only 1-2 even make it past an initial consultation <<<

Maybe 1 or 2 get a consultation by a personal injury lawyer but the number of "applicants" is relatively high. It tells you that there are a lot of people on a "fishing expedition" to see what they can catch. The screening process, no doubt, looks at the potential amount of award and bypasses those with low payout.

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