In doctor’s offices, hospitals, and emergency departments across the state, there is a shortage of doctors and specialists.
Why is that? Connecticut’s medical schools do a great job of teaching students. But several state policies and laws are making it increasingly difficult to maintain a practice here in Connecticut. One area of concern focuses on the malpractice climate here. While other states have passed laws that encourage physicians to establish practices, our state has done little to address the growing concern. Just a few years ago, the cost of medical malpractice insurance was so high that some physicians were forced out of the state, or out of practice altogether.
To hear Connecticut’s trial lawyers, there is no problem. They say there are plenty of doctors.
But that just isn’t true. In emergency departments across the state, patients brought in with injuries requiring specialists like hand surgeons or neurologists may have difficulty finding them. The fact is that the risk of being sued is heightened in this situation.
In some cases, if an emergency patient can be stabilized, we send them home with instructions to make a follow-up appointment with a specialist.
If they can’t be stabilized, they may require transport to a larger hospital, adding more stress to an already difficult situation.
For those doctors with office-based practices, the cost of insurance can be high and the impact of a lawsuit, even one where the doctor prevails, can be devastating.
In 2005, the General Assembly passed legislation that requires lawyers to get a certificate of merit for their case before a medical malpractice lawsuit could proceed. That legislation was a step in the right direction and helped to prevent unfounded lawsuits from moving forward. But a proposal now being considered by the Judiciary Committee would water that requirement down — a step in the wrong direction.
Another bill being considered by the Public Health Committee would help address the concern over providing care in the emergency setting and bring on-call specialists back to the emergency departments across the state.
When people are injured or sick, they want to see a doctor. With more than 1.6 million emergency department visits every year in Connecticut and fewer than 100 lawsuits filed, we have to consider whose needs are being served. Without fairness and balance in Connecticut’s laws, seeing a doctor will become increasingly difficult.
The bottom line for Connecticut is this — yes, patients have rights. But one of those rights is to have access to the best care possible, whether in an office visit or an emergency. To get that balance the legislature needs to reject changes in the certificate of merit, and to support the proposal to help specialists in an emergency setting.
Dr. Gregory Shangold is the medical director at Windham Hospital.