A new Oregon state law that creates a process to keep frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits out of the courts is a step in the right direction, says one hospitalist.
But uncertainty remains.
Jay Ham, MD, a hospitalist at Providence Newberg Medical Center in Newberg, Ore., says many hospitalists are still learning the ins and outs of the new law, which includes a definition for adverse healthcare incidents and establishes a procedure for providers and patients to discuss those incidents outside of court. The new law also provides for a mediation process.
The lawsuit mediation bill, signed into law earlier this month by Gov. John Kitzhaber, makes discussions between health care providers and patients "confidential and inadmissible with exception." The law does not preclude patients from later filing negligence claims.
"Allowing apologies and admission of guilt in this to be inadmissible at any later civil proceedings seems a nice touch," says Dr. Ham. "Deducting any awards given in the mediation process from civil court damages, while preventing knowledge of the initial award amount, also seems fair."
But there are areas of concern, he says. While most proceedings under the process "appear protected from disclosure if a civil case does go forward," there are caveats that might discourage some physicians from using the process, such as using discussions during the private process that contradict statements made in a court case. Also, there are questions about what types of cases will qualify for discussion outside the court system.
Still, the new law brings medical malpractice liability reform a bit closer, even if it doesn't reduce liability costs, Dr. Ham says. "Changing the cost of medicine doesn't need to be the defining impetus to implement reasonable [liability] reform," Dr. Ham says.