The astronomical cost of medical care in the United States is often blamed on the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance that must be carried by medical practitioners. Basically, medical malpractice insurance is necessary for health care providers to protect themselves from the costs and damages caused by lawsuits filed by legitimate as well as nonlegitimate patient cases around the country.

What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is defined as the failure of any physician to exercise due care or skill while engaging in a specific field or specialty that he or she would use in "normal" circumstances. In essence, medical malpractice is considered a form of negligence and failure to meet acceptable standards in quality of care in his or her medical practice.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, medical malpractice costs have risen steadily since the 1990s. The growing number of claims and suits filed against physicians, dentists, chiropractors, and other healthcare providers in recent years has driven insurance rate increases, especially in urban areas.

The United States Government Accounting Office reports that rising insurance rates could be blamed on several factors, including increased losses to malpractice insurers due to payouts, a decrease in investments of these insurers, as well as decreased competition between medical malpractice insurers. Because of this, malpractice premiums have increased, forcing the costs of such increases along to patients. In addition, such high malpractice premiums also cause many physicians and surgeons to limit high-risk services or surgeries because of their fear of being sued if outcomes are not ideal.

Basically, medical liability in the United States is broken down into three categories:

  • Negligence
  • Malpractice
  • Medical malpractice

Negligence is defined as someone who fails to do something that a normal person would do in a given circumstance or situation, or someone who does something that should not be done in a particular situation. Malpractice is defined as a professional who engages in misconduct, such as one who neglects or fails to follow standards of care common and expected in that profession and that may result in harm to another person. Medical malpractice is defined as misconduct that generally involves the failure of a physician to follow basic standards of care that results in harm to a patient.

In order to be held accountable for medical malpractice a patient must be able to prove that duty of care is owed to a patient, that there was a breach of this duty of care, and that a connection exists between that breach of duty and the patient's injury, as well as damages to that patient.

However, many doctors in the 21st century are extremely fearful (with good reason) of losing massive amounts of money as well as their licenses and practices because of the willingness of individuals to sue as a result of procedures, surgeries, or services that don't turn out as patients expect. While in some cases, surgeons or physicians or other healthcare providers may indeed be considered negligent, such as not often the case.

In 2006, medical malpractice tort costs totaled over $30 billion, and they rises steadily every year. Because of the high rate of suits brought against physicians, nearly one third of 900 doctors surveyed in the state of Massachusetts recently stated that they have reduced the number of high-risk services they perform while others have declined to take on high-risk patients.

Where does that leave today's patients? It leaves them looking for alternative sources for medical care, treatments, procedures and surgeries. Because other countries don't have problems with medical malpractice insurance that the United States does, foreign health care providers are able to offer medical services at sometimes a 10th of the cost of those charged in the United States.

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