Our Generation: What tort reform means to me

November 1, 2005

At this year's ACOG Annual Clinical Meeting, I was struck by the passion of the Junior Fellow essays on "What Obstetrics and Gynecology Means to Me." There was Dr. van Dis's prize-winning account about why she became an obstetrician/gynecologist and how incredible our profession is.1 And Dr. Gibb's story of the "It's a boy" cigar he's carried in his white coat pocket since his fourth year of residency, which brought me to tears. Each and every one of the essays so profoundly described why our work is uniquely human and incredibly marvelous.

Just 50 feet away from the Junior Fellow posters was the booth for Ob-Gyns for Women's Health (http:// http://www.obgynsforwomenshealth.org/), the political action committee (PAC) that helps elect and support members of Congress who are advocates for our specialty. The director and staff were fundraising from the fellows, and I was glad to see that many of the fellows were donating. It struck me that we need the same fervor I saw in the essays to win the battle for meaningful professional liability reform. It's not so much about economics or even patient safety, but rather, a fight for the right and freedom to practice our art and our calling.

The 45% response rate for the 2003 ACOG Survey of Professional Liability-although quite good as such polls go-suggests to me that more than half my colleagues aren't passionate or concerned about an important threat to our specialty's viability.2 Many of the trends identified in the study, too, are troublesome. For example, 25.2% of the ob/gyns polled said they were doing less high-risk obstetrics, 12.2% were doing fewer deliveries, and 9.2% had stopped practicing obstetrics altogether. The reasons for these practice changes? First and foremost was a lack of affordable and available professional liability insurance, but risk of lawsuits was also compelling. The average number of claims filed against ob/gyns during their careers is now 2.64, up significantly from the 2.31 reported in ACOG's 1996 and 1999 surveys.

But regardless of where you practice, who pays for your insurance, or whether you personally have been sued for malpractice, I urge you to become involved in the fight for professional liability reform. Join Ob-Gyns for Women's Health and give a donation of $1,000 this year. Our opponents in the legal profession contributed more than $200 million to 2004 Congressional campaigns and they have already given nearly $9 million in support of campaigns for the elections in 2006.3 By contrast, health professionals gave less than $73 million in 2004 and have donated just under $6 million for next year's elections. Why don't we support tort reform more enthusiastically?

Let your legislators know how the professional liability crisis is affecting your patients today and what it could mean for women and babies throughout the country tomorrow. Educate your patients so they, too, can become active in keeping quality health care available.

We as a specialty cannot remain apathetic. We must bring the same passion that carried us through medical school and residency to the fight for tort reform. The current legal system threatens my right and freedom-and yours-to do what we were called to do and love doing. Don't let our profession be taken away from us.