A Socratic dialog on health care reform (V)

After leaving the pharmacy of Apothos, Socrates finds himself pursued by Litigius the solicitor.

Litigius:  Socrates, my dear friend, wait—please wait!

Socrates: (pausing to turn his head)  What’s that?  Who calls me?

Lit:  It is I, Litigius.  If you would be so kind as to allow me to have a word with you, Socrates.

Soc:  By all means, speak then, Litigius; though I can’t remember when we’ve met before.

Lit:  I sat as one of your students in rhetoric at the Academy of Athens years ago.

Soc:  Strive as I might, I can’t recall your face.  I have grown old; and as of late, my memory fails me.  But no matter: what is it you wish?

Lit:  As I lingered outside the door of Apothos’ shop, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with him.  I understand that you have suffered a wound on your foot, which has lately suppurated, even though it had been attended to by Aesculapius the physician.

Soc:  How acute your hearing, Litigius!  You have described the matter truly.

Lit:  I imagine that, as I perceive you to ambulate with a limp, you are in some discomfort from the infection.

Soc:  It bothers me but a trifle.  But why do you ask—have you lately taken an interest in the healing arts as well?

Lit:  In a manner of speaking, Socrates.

Soc:  How so?

Lit:  As a solicitor, I am concerned for your welfare; especially in view of the fact that I fear you may have been mistreated.

Soc:  Mistreated?  By whom?  It was merely a stone which I treaded upon that cut the sole of my foot.

Lit:  Good Socrates, I refer not to the stone, but to the person of Aesculapius himself.

Soc:  Aesculapius!  The gods forbid that he should have done me wrong.  Why, Aesculapius is a fine practitioner of medicine.  I trust his judgment and skill completely.

Lit:  I’m certain his intentions have always been honorable, Socrates.  But here I refer not to intentions but rather technique.

Soc:  How so?

Lit:  Had his intervention been appropriate, the wound on your foot would not have suppurated.

Soc:  Any wound can suppurate, Litigius.  Well you know that to be the case, as many more infect than not.  On the contrary, Aesculapius did the best he was able to clean and dress my wound, and I thanked him for his efforts.

Lit:  Sometimes efforts fall short of the mark.  And when that happens, the law provides for redress—

Soc:  Of the wound?

Lit:  Of grievances.  I stand ready to offer you my services to petition the courts for redress of grievances, for the bodily harm that Aesculapius caused you through negligence in the practice of his art.

Soc:  (narrowing his eyes)  Are you saying that you wish me to bring suit against Aesculapius on the grounds of malpractice merely because the wound on the sole of my foot became infected?

Lit:  Precisely.

Soc:  But that borders on inanity, Litigius.  Had it been my soul which had been wounded to the point of festering, should I consider suing the clergy?

Lit:  Should that problem ever arise, I would be happy to be likewise of service.  But here we have a watertight case, one well worth several thousand drachmae, of which I would only require a mere third, should we be able to prove malpractice.  You stand to become a wealthy man, Socrates.

Soc:  And if I choose to sue and we should win, then I would become rich at the expense of Aesculapius, who would then become poor; and, in despair, might even forsake the practice of his profession.

Lit:  Aesculapius would suffer little setback, if any.  His malpractice insurer would pay the restitution, Socrates, not he.

Soc:  If so, then what would happen to his malpractice premiums should he choose to remain in practice?  Would they not ascend exponentially and the payment become prohibitive?

Lit:  But that would not be your concern, Socrates.  In this world we must all think of ourselves first.

Soc:  If that be the case, then who would look out for the weaker citizens, Litigius?

Lit:  Why, we solicitors, of course!  We always put the interest of the downtrodden first.

Soc:  Off with you now, Litigius.  I would rather bear an injustice done to me than provoke an injustice toward another.  Besides, I must be on my way.  I need to speak with Hippocrates on a number of grave matters, not the least of which is end-of-life care.

Lit:  As you wish, Socrates.  But here is my card, should you require my services in the future.  At the very least, please consider what I have said.

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2 comments on “A Socratic dialog on health care reform (V)

  1. Art says:

    Is malpractice being discussed in the healthcare PLAN? I have been enjoying your dialogs.

    • Brian says:

      According to a recent NYT article, Medical Malpractice System Breeds More Waste, “the direct costs of malpractice lawsuits — jury awards, settlements and the like — are such a minuscule part of health spending that they barely merit discussion, economists say. But that doesn’t mean the malpractice system is working.”

      “On one side are those conservatives and doctors who have no doubt that frivolous lawsuits and Democratic politicians beholden to trial lawyers are the reasons American health care is so expensive. On the other side are those liberals who see malpractice reform as another Republican conspiracy to shift attention from the real problem.”

      “Researchers estimate that doctors’ fear of lawsuits leads to up to $60 billion a year worth of wasteful treatment.”

      Malpractice is just one more piece in the health care reform puzzle.

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