States Could Offer Template For Revising Malpractice Law

side note: In an attempt to gain bipartisan support for his healthcare reform agenda, President Obama has embraced some measures of tort reform. We like seeing the President reach across the aisle to get some real legislation passed.

Wall Street Journal

Programs under way in several states could provide a template for President Barack Obama’s pledge to address medical-malpractice abuses.

In his speech Wednesday to Congress, Mr. Obama promised to take seriously concerns long voiced by Republicans that medical-malpractice insurance inflates health-insurance costs and prompts doctors to engage in “defensive medicine” — prescribing costly, unnecessary procedures to ward off lawsuits.

The president endorsed a new malpractice initiative first proposed by President George W. Bush in which states can gain grants for projects aimed at curbing such suits. In a speech Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted two such projects under way in some states.

One, adopted by hospitals in Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky and elsewhere, encourages doctors to disclose errors early and apologize, when appropriate. This approach is designed to address hospitals’ reluctance to disclose medical mistakes for fear of being sued. It encourages hospitals and patients to enter mediation, in lieu of court cases, to resolve disputes.

Another initiative, adopted by lawmakers in Florida, Georgia and Illinois, requires plaintiffs’ lawyers to have their cases vetted by physicians before filing them. This is designed to weed out frivolous suits while giving the truly harmed an avenue to the courts.

The move to an early error-disclosure system in 2002 has paid dividends at the University of Michigan Health System, said Richard C. Boothman, the hospital’s chief risk officer. Prior to 2002, the culture was to fight every case, he said. “Nobody said, ‘what should we have learned from this?’ ”

Today the hospital encourages employees to report mistakes, and also to report issues that might lead to mistakes. A committee of peers reviews serious incidents. If the panel determines that a mistake has occurred, the hospital and doctors apologize. In addition, the University of Michigan compensates the patient or the family.

The costs to such a review are high, said Mr. Boothman. They are included in the hospital’s risk-management budget, which has grown to more than $3 million annually, up from $500,000 in 2001. But claims against the hospital have been reduced to 106 in 2008 from 121 in 2001.

Read the rest of the article at the WSJ site

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