The courts are giving patients such high compensation for medical errors and negligence they suffered that the medical insurance sector is in a serious crisis. This is leading to higher premiums that weigh down public hospitals and health funds and force some private doctors to leave high-risk professions such as obstetrics, ultrasound imaging of fetuses and anesthesiology.
This was revealed at the Ariel University Center in Samaria's third annual health conference, which was held in the Knesset auditorium on Tuesday and attended by a few hundred people in the field of medical services and risk management. Experts said that it would be best to settle lawsuits by awarding compensation up to a certain limit without assigning blame to medical staffers involved, as otherwise they would fear reporting errors and bring about more mistakes.
Initiated by Kadima MK Rahel Adatto and greeted by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the all-day conference reached a consensus that changes must be carried out - best by legislation - in this field.
But Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman, who was the last speaker, told The Jerusalem Post after the conclusion of the conference that he was in favor of transparency and would oppose a no-fault system in which negligent personnel would not be punished for errors.
Litzman also said that he wants to encourage even higher quality in the health system by examining reports on success rates in hospitals. For example, he said he has been asking for four months for rates of success in the country's 24 in-vitro fertilization units, where success is easily measured by the number of live babies produced with fertility treatment. The deputy minister said he was given the runaround, but statistics were beginning to come in. The average rate was 35 percent to 40%, but he learned that one hospital had only an 11% success rate. Litzman said he was considering cancelling the license of units that do not meet standards.
Prof. Yossi Mekori, dean of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Medical Faculty, said that "we must learn from errors and do risk management. We should introduce more methods for quality improvement, engaging with our patients and providers of medical services. But the culture of blame is counterproductive, as it scares people from reporting on errors. It must be an acceptable thing to report errors in the whole medical system, with ongoing Health Ministry supervision."
Dr. Shoshi Goldberg, chief nurse at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, said that the shortage of doctors and nurses does not make the provision of medical care without errors any easier.
"If a nurse gave the wrong dosage of a drug, she is responsible, but she is not to blame. The hospital is to blame; nurses are out on the front," she said.
In the US, only a quarter of lawsuits against medical personnel follow damage to a patient, said Talia Halamish-Shani, an attorney and director-general of the Madanes company, the largest firm that insures doctors in Israel.
"Here the average award given for medical negligence was $35,000 in 2003; today it has more than doubled to $80,000," she said.
"To err is human," added Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, "but to prevent errors is a social responsibility. Laws are needed so that a patient who is harmed gets compensation but the doctor is not blamed. One learns from error. If it is not reported, another error is almost inevitable," he said.
A feature on the conference will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, November 22.