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Health care warranties: compensation for medical negligence?


When medical professionals are negligent or make mistakes, patients and insurers are usually the ones who have to foot the bill. This is different from most other industries where a provider is expected to make good on a faulty service or product. If a person paid a plumber to fix a leaky pipe that continued to leak, that person wouldn't expect to pay the plumber again to fix what was already supposed to have been repaired. Not so in the health care sector.

Patients who leave the hospital with an infection and return, or who must have multiple procedures to fix a botched operation or to replace a faulty implant, are expected to pay their out-of-pocket contributions each time. With few exceptions, medical professionals do not offer warranties on their work. Central Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health System started offering warranties on certain procedures in 2006, but Geisinger is a rarity among health care providers.

Health care warranty advocates across the country are trying to change this. In recent years, health care systems have expended significant energy and expense on patient experience, from nicer rooms to valet parking. But advocates argue that quality of health care ought to be at the center of patient experience, and warranties help improve quality of care.

Until warranties become more common, however, patients who experience avoidable complications or injury due to a medical experience must continue to rely on the medical malpractice process for compensation. While warranties may seem to be a simpler solution, they are not a complete solution. A warranty will not typically compensate an injured patient for anything beyond the cost of the procedure. Those that exist today tend to be limited to issues that arise within 30 or 90 days.

A medical malpractice claim, however, can be filed much later and represents a more complete approach to compensating an injured patient. Loss of income due to the injury or even additional damage awards designed to discourage medical negligence may be awarded in a malpractice case. Until it is possible to rely on a health care warranty to make a patient whole after a medical mistake, relying on available legal options may be the best chance at financial recovery.

Source: CNN Money, "Should your doctor offer a money-back guarantee," Michelle Andrews, Nov. 30, 2017

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