- - Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I would dare anyone to find an American citizen who was not shocked by the emergency dispatch tape from the Bakersfield adult living facility released on Sunday. An elderly patient collapsed and was not breathing properly. The emergency dispatcher asked the nurse on the scene at the nursing home to perform CPR. The nurse replied, “Yeah, we can’t do CPR.” To hear an EMS dispatcher beg a nurse to do CPR on a woman is bad enough, but to hear the nurse refuse to do so without good reason is chilling.

When the incident became public, the facility fell back on policy. It was not their policy to provide emergency care. The boss explained the family of the lady was aware of this when they entered into the agreement. It all boils down to lawyers being involved somewhere.

When this lady collapsed in that home, her life should have been in the hands of moral American citizens, people who know the right thing to do. Her life should have been in the hands of health care providers working with those moral citizens. Instead, her life fell into the hands of lawyers.

It’s easy to make an argument for overriding the facility policy, but there is always the question of liability. People throw the term “Good Samaritan Law” around, but would such a law apply in this facility, since it employs nurses? Good Samaritan Laws do not apply in hospitals.

I was the target of a lawsuit when I saved a child’s life in a hospital. The child was not my patient, but I stepped in and helped bring her back to life. For this I was sued. Along with all the other physicians involved, my insurance company paid money to the family, and my name wound up in the National Practitioner Data Bank. My lawyer gave me advice after the case closed: If the patient isn’t mine, step aside because it’s easier to defend.

Lawyers not only interfere with the delivery of health care, they are one of the major reasons the costs of health care are so high. Not only do physicians have to pay malpractice premiums, but the number of unnecessary tests ordered would plummet if lawyers were out of the picture. Doctors could devote more time to the patient if they didn’t have to spend so much time protecting themselves.

With regulations piling up, the burden is heavier than ever. Anyone in the health care field is primed to watch his back from all sides, as it were, since he is a target for patient lawyers, state lawyers and federal lawyers. He is supposed to follow the guidelines, but he can still be held liable if something goes wrong.

Lawyers are a hindrance to health care and free thinking in general. They get in our way. Medicine is made up of professionals who just want to make people well. With the legal system, it’s always about the process, not about the result. Lawyers will take a single situation and turn it into something very complicated. The focus is different. While lawyers are process based, physicians are result based.

Monetary reimbursement is also dependent on these factors. Physicians, rewarded on how quickly they can reach a diagnosis and treat a patient, have to perform efficiently and accurately in order to see any reimbursement. Lawyers bill by the hour and sell stationery at a very profitable rate. Unlike physicians, lawyers are paid for their research and documentation.

We have to remember who is in charge of the health care of this nation. It isn’t the physicians. Just think: We have no way of knowing how many lawyers were involved in drafting Obamacare. A Congress full of lawyers passed it, and a Harvard Law School graduate signed it into law.

Obamacare is a good example of how lawyers can make things worse. The Congressional Budget Office recently announced Obamacare will now set the American people back over $1.7 trillion over the next decade. This is $900 billion more than the president’s original promise, but it should be no surprise. The numbers keep piling up, along with the bureaucratic red tape.

Add to that the lack of any mention of tort reform, and we’re back to the nurse refusing to perform CPR on a dying woman. Obamacare fails the American people in so many ways and still leaves the health care industry open to liability. Of course, the American tort system is designed to spread the wealth, and that is one of the top items on the Obama agenda. It would be detrimental to his cause to put such a program in place.

Now we have created a society running scared, a society that values policy over human life. There is no tort reform in sight. People may refuse to do CPR, but that’s just because they’re following orders.  

Dr. Constance Uribe is a general surgeon and author of “The Health Care Provider’s Guide to Facing the Malpractice Deposition” (CRC Press, 1999).