Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 11, 2013, 5:30pm

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) -- Doctors believe Texas' professional liability climate has improved in the last 10 years, according to a survey by the Texas Medical Association.

TMA is one of the nation's largest and oldest medical societies, and represents more than 47,000 physician and medical student members in the state.

According to survey results released Monday, Texas physicians say, as a result of the state's medical liability reform in 2003, they feel assured they can take on the most complicated illnesses and serious injuries without fear of facing a baseless lawsuit in return.

In 2003, TMA took a survey that showed the lawsuit epidemic had significantly reduced sick and injured Texans' ability to get the health care they need.

Lawmakers, in response, promised things would be different following the passage of House Bill 4 and Proposition 12.

In addition to improving the state's liability climate, the law and accompanying constitutional amendment -- according to TMA's new survey -- have attracted record numbers of new physicians to the state.

"My mom taught me that you're only as good as your word," TMA President Stephen L. Brotherton, M.D., of Fort Worth, said in a statement Monday.

"We've kept our word. Mom would be proud. And the patients of Texas are so much better off because of it."

According to TMA's new survey, 80 percent of Texas physicians polled rated the state's current liability climate for physicians as good or excellent.

The 2003 survey found that half of state physicians had stopped providing certain services to their patients in the previous two years, and 62 percent had begun denying or referring high-risk cases.

TMA's follow-up survey found that 89 percent of physicians who were practicing in Texas both then and now say the liability climate today is "better" or "much better" than before September 2003.

In fact, as a result of the reforms, the new survey found that 13 percent of physicians who were practicing in Texas both then and now are providing new or renewed services to their patients, and 36 percent are accepting more high-risk patients.

Also, compared with the 2003 survey, almost three-quarters, or 72 percent, of current physicians who have attempted to recruit new physicians to their practice, hospital or community said they have found it easier to do so.

Invitations to participate in the online survey were emailed to 52,480 physicians in Texas and out of state.

Analysis includes answers from 1,615 respondents -- or a 3 percent response rate -- who completed the survey Aug. 6-20.

The margin of error for questions answered by the entire sample is plus or minus 2.5 percent, TMA noted.

Gov. Rick Perry took some time Monday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the reform's passage.

"Ten years ago, Texas doctors were faced with an awful choice: stop providing critical services their patients desperately needed, shut down their practice altogether, or leave the state," the governor said. "The best thing we can say about tort reform in Texas is also the most basic thing: It's made people's lives better.

"Since Proposition 12 passed 10 years ago, Texas has added more than 30,000 doctors with significant gains in communities that had been traditionally medically underserved. Many of the same lawsuit reforms we passed also freed entrepreneurs and employers across our state to worry less about lawsuit abuse, and invest fewer resources in defending them."

According to Perry's office, claims and lawsuits in most Texas counties have been cut in half.

Hospitals also are collectively saving about $100 million per year in liability premiums, allowing for investments in new technology, patient care and charity care.

The state also has received a record number of medical license applications this year, the governor said.

Physician growth has increased faster than population growth, with the ranks of high-risk specialists growing more than twice as fast as the population, pediatric sub-specialists growing 10 times faster than the population, and the number of geriatricians more than doubling.

Additionally, since 2003, 24 rural counties added at least one general surgeon, 35 rural counties added at least one obstetrician and 39 rural counties added their first emergency medicine physician. The number of rural obstetricians also has grown nearly three times faster than the state's rural population, according to the governor's office.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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