Emergency Room & Emergency Responder Immunity: Safe Haven for Negligence and Incompetence?

The basis behind the immunity for ER doctors in Texas (and other states following suit) is that medical malpractice claims have made it difficult to attract doctors to emergency rooms across Texas. It is not clear if the objective is to attract competent doctors.

What might be expected for the level of care in emergency rooms as ER doctors are given immunity from their negligent acts? Those doctors that cannot or will not practice medicine safely and competently may well be attracted to the ER. This serves neither the medical profession or the patient. Neither does it serve the healthcare system or taxpaying public as a whole.

The brunt of any negligence leading to serious and long-lasting injury to patients will be borne by Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security Disability. The costs of ER negligence will simply be shifted from the doctor, the hospital and most importantly their insurance carrier to the public at large.

Rather than raise the standards across the medical profession and encourage all doctors to meet higher standards of patient safety, Texas and others have chosen to create a safe haven for those doctors who cannot or will not meet the minimum levels of professional competence.

In the abstract, medical malpractice reform sounds plausible, almost necessary. In practice, these types of measures create unacceptable risks to patients and the public. They will also rightfully undermine the public‘s confidence in the medical profession. After all, why would a doctor need immunity to protect the doctor from his or her own negligence and incompetence?

It would perhaps not be so bad if Texas were alone in pushing these measures. But many other states, including New Mexico have proposed similar measures. In fact, New Mexico House Bill 372 was introduced this session to give immunity to emergency responders for all but gross negligence.

Rest assured, the future will bring more expansive bills to take the immunity from the scene of the accident through the ER. Once that is done, it will not be long before there will be bills suggesting industry wide immunity from medical malpractice claims. Many states have already placed severely inadequate caps on medical malpractice lawsuits.

Be safe out there! An accident may be the least of your worries. Your life and family may be at risk. But you should can take comfort in knowing your doctor, the hospital, their insurance carriers and all of their respective incomes will be fully protected. And in the end, isn‘t that what matters most?


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