Medical Error Reform Combats Rising Health Care Costs

Medical error is a problem that no one wants to encounter. It can lead to pain and suffering on the part of the individual who receives erroneous care, along with being a very costly mess to untangle. The financial issues associated with medical error is commonly acknowledged to be one reason for rising health care costs in the US. According to a 2010 press release outlining a comprehensive analysis from Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that medical liability costs totaled about 2.4% of annual health care spending in the United States, or $55.6 billion per year in 2008. Additionally, they found that the medical liability system’s annual price tag includes $45.6 billion in defensive medicine costs, $5.7 billion in malpractice claims payments, and more than $4 billion in administrative and other expenses.

While 2.4% of overall healthcare costs does not sound like much in the big picture, it has been enough to prompt 7 Massachusetts Hospitals to coalesce into a group willing to reform the system to combat this element of rising health care costs. According to a recent report, “A coalition of six healthcare organizations announced Wednesday the new “Disclosure, Apology, and Offer” process that will be piloted this year in seven hospitals, including Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton.”

This new plan to combat medical error and rising health care costs is banking on making apologies and offering settlements for errors in the hopes that it will reduce costly malpractice lawsuits and unnecessary tests. The process will increase the transparency of the medical system by requiring disclosure to patients when something goes wrong, along with requiring an investigation of what happened, a plan to prevent recurrence, and where appropriate, an apology and financial compensation in lieu of legal action.

The Roadmap to Reform press release presented their own statistics on the price of medical error to the overall health care system, stating that, “It’s estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of health care dollars spent in the United State go toward defensive medicine, a term for tests ordered less for medical need and more for a doctor’s legal protection.”

Medical malpractice attorneys in the area are keeping a close eye on the proposed reforms to ensure that they don’t infringe on a patient’s right to sue. So far the proposal requires some changes to state law, but does not bar a patient from suing. Instead, it calls for six months to pass after a disclosure for a suit to be filed.

It also includes an interesting clause which protects the hospitals from legal reprisal for any apologetic statement after a medical error occurs. The apology protection provision that would prevent a litigant from using a physician or doctor’s acknowledgment of error in a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, the medical system can break down. Doctors misdiagnose. Hospital bureaucrats delay treatment, leading to tragedy. Nurses accidentally administer the wrong dose of a medication or fail to screen for allergic reactions. The list of potential medical error scenarios is limitless. While this new reform in Massachusetts could combat rising health care costs and improve reporting of medical error, seeking an medical malpractice attorney can still be crucial to protecting your rights and help you achieve the maximum possible settlement or verdict for your case.

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