How dangerous is our health care?

In 2005, several statewide advocacy groups promoted what we believe is a sound approach that would go a long way to lower malpractice premiums for doctors AND promote patient safety: House Bill 779, also known as The Consumer Right to Participate Act.

A product of a year of research and collaboration between elder and consumer advocacy groups and citizen volunteers, this legislation draws from patient safety initiatives that are working now to make health care safer for families in other states.

AARP Georgia, the Georgia Council on Aging, consumer watchdog group Georgia Watch and The Women’s Policy Group have educated Georgia citizens on the need to increase the State Medical Board’s oversight of health care providers, and improve the quality of health care in Georgia by weeding out the relatively small number of repeatedly negligent doctors.

The Consumer Right to Participate Act would do just that, and the need for these new provisions is apparent:

* In Georgia, just 3.5 percent of practicing physicians were responsible for nearly 40 percent of the state’s malpractice payouts between 1991 and 2003.

* During that same period, 18 doctors were responsible for between four and eight malpractice payouts each, yet none were disciplined by the State Medical Board.

* The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003 ranked Georgia’s quality of care 47th in the nation, placing the Peach State’s health care among the worst in the country.

Even The Federation of State Medical Boards advocates for participation of laypeople on licensing and disciplining boards in its 1998 “Elements of a Modern State Medical Board” report. The board recognizes that consumers should play a role in policing providers to break the “white wall of silence.” A provision to include public members outside of the health care industry is a key part of the Consumer Right to Participate Act.

Other pro-consumer provisions include the following:

* Three-strikes-your-out provision that revokes the license of any Georgia doctor with three or more court judgments of malpractice against them.

* Requires hospitals and nursing homes to report all deaths and adverse incidents to the Department of Community Health, which would post findings on its Web site.

* Taylor’s Law – Modeled after Massachusetts legislation passed with the support of the state’s medical association, this provision would allow victims of medical errors and their families to make statements detailing how malpractice has affected their lives in medical board’s discipline hearings. AARP Georgia advocates for increased patient protections, chiefly because older Georgians are two to four times as likely to suffer injury or death by medical negligence than people younger than retirement age.