Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Lawyers Sue Hospital Based on What it Advertised

Lawyers have noticed how hospitals are making exaggerated claims about their services, as reported by the Boston Globe.
The story involves the unfortunate case of a patient who died after bariatric surgery (i.e., after a procedure meant to reduce stomach size, and so induce weight loss). In Massachusetts, the law limits the damages collectable from civil suits against not-for-profit organizations, including hospitals, to $20,000. However, in this case, the plaintiff's lawyers are contending that "these stomach banding procedures are profit centers, that the hospitals advertise, they make promises, they do all things businesses do." Based on this argument, they initially asked Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital for a settlement of $8.5 million, and then filed a law-suit naming the hospital, as well as three members of the hospital's anesthesia staff.
The article also noted that other states are abolishing restrictions on the damages that can be collected from hospitals, based on reasoning that "the legal system should not treat hospitals differently than other corporations, especially as hospitals merge into large organizations that increasingly market their products and compete for patients."
Health Care Renewal has posted examples of hospitals (and other health care not-for-profits) acting more like for-profit businesses, and of some hospitals exhibiting unethical business practices. In particular, we have posted about questionable hospital advertising claims here and here. The second link is to a study of advertising done by prominent academic medical centers. The authors concluded, "Many of the ads seem to place the interests of the medical center before the interests of the patients."
The law may be a somewhat blunt tool to change these practices, but if we in health care cannot come up with a more nuanced approach, it is a tool likely to be increasingly employed.

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