The Studies May Be OK, but They’re Not Really Medical Tort Reform

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on Friday announced the recipients of a total of $25 million in federal grants to study patient safety and medical liability, a program the Administration cites to claim its health care initiatives include medical liability reform.

At the White House blog, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a special adviser for health policy in the Office of Management and Budget, described the thrust of the grants. From “An Important Step on Medical Malpractice Reform“:

The 20 grants awarded today by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) are an important step in the right direction. They will fund programs that aim to reduce avoidable injuries. For instance, one program in Massachusetts aims to reduce errors in primary care physician offices, particularly concerning medications and referrals. Another in Minnesota targets patient safety around childbirth by instituting best practices at 16 hospitals statewide and determining if there is a correlation between fewer complications in childbirth and malpractice suits targeted at obstetricians. A third, in Oregon, will develop and work to implement a “safe harbor” system in which physicians who prove they adhered to evidence based guidelines are protected from frivolous lawsuits.

Best practices, improved sharing of information, additional data collection — all fine. But in most cases, doctors are already doing their best to provide good care to their patients and avoid getting sued. There’s little if anything in these grants that will change that.

Philip K. Howard, chairman of the legal reform coalition Common Good, explained the problems in a statement following the announcement.

While some of these projects might improve the process when patients are injured by medical error, none of them protects doctors from lawsuits where there were no errors. This unreliability drives defensive medicine. The Department of Health and Human Services is avoiding the reality that a new reliable system of medical justice is needed to end defensive medicine, a practice which contributes to the unsustainable growth in health care costs. The trial lawyers, a major contributor to Congressional campaign coffers, are the only beneficiary of the current system, and Washington appears unwilling to take them on, especially in an election year. We’ll see in the fall elections if voters are still happy to have special interests put ahead of the public interest.

From HHS:

UPDATE (1:10 p.m.): Should have noted that Common Good’s reform of choice is health courts.

Also, background from the White House in September 2009 when the President unveiled his initiative:

Join the discussion One Comment

Leave a Reply