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Patients' Voice?

The AMA's Patient Action Network

For a while the AMA had advertisements on television asking patients to sign up at www.amapatientvoice.com (a link that now is dead) to help fight for patients' rights. They wanted patients to write to their congresspersons to urge them to pass liability limitations that restrict the amount for which patients can sue when healthcare professionals injure them.

Two comedians once put a sign on a table on a city sidewalk asking people join a movement to stop women's suffrage. When women asked about it, the comedians said that there just was too much suffraging. Women agreed and signed up. Finally some male bystander said, "They're getting women to sign up to end their right to vote." The AMA was doing the same thing. Unfortunately, the AMA was not joking.

Sign Up?
They asked you to give them your email address so they could contact you when legislation was pending about which they wanted you to write to your government representatives. Equal Protection for PatientsLiability limitations was not their only agenda, but what they were advertising on television was a plea for you to help them pass liability limitations that take away the rights of patients.

If you knew better than to fall for that, signing up could have been a good way to get alerted when it was a propitious time to tell your government to tell the AMA that liability limitations probably are a violation of our 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection. And that the Wisconsin Supreme Court already ruled that their state’s cap on pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases violates the equal protection guarantees of their state constitution (more about that here). When the AMA notifies you that it is time to do the opposite, you could tell your government representative that the last thing he or she should do is pass a bill that will harm you in the way that the AMA is trying to.

Freedom of Speech for Patients
Right now in many places there are limitations on the amount for which a patient can sue if a physician assaults and disables him or her (that's the practical effect of the law), but there are no limitations on the amount for which the physician sue the patient if the patient talks about it (see freedom of speech for patients). If the federal government insists on passing the liability limitations, as the Bush White House's webpage urged them to, perhaps they could be persuaded to add a rider that makes things a little more equal by protecting the freedom of speech of patients by limiting the amount for which patients can be sued by healthcare professionals, espeically when all the patients are doing is speaking.

Doctors can physically injure patients and be protected. Do patients not deserve similar protection when they speak about it?

The AMA says they want to end "frivolous" suits that are driving up healthcare costs. In fact, malpractice suits make up a very small fraction of healthcare costs. Almost none of them are frivolous. And physicians are not leaving the profession because of high insurance rates. All these issues have been studied. To suggest otherwise in order to dupe patients into defeating their own rights is a significant comment on why physicians do not solve patient safety problems.

"The overtly anti-patient proposals and actions of some doctors is driven by the more refined vitriol of the AMA in its effort to take away the rights of injured patients."
- from a letter to the AMA sent by two groups fighting for patients

Have you heard the arguments for why giving liability limitations to patients would do more to save lives and reduce health care costs than giving them to providers? If you haven't, you have experienced how well medicine has silenced the interests of patients and promoted the interests of itself.

Self-interest trumps patient safety.

That's why patient safety is an issue in the first place. Let's not pass liability limitations that insulate them even further from the consequences of both failing and refusing to make patients safe. If we did the opposite, perhaps then they would focus on reducing the number of unnecessary deaths rather than just protecting their image and income.