Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill today offering patients, doctors and hospitals an alternative to medical-malpractice lawsuits.
Senate Bill 483 would allow them to enter into voluntary discussions and mediations, including settlement offers, under the authority of the Oregon Patient Safety Commission.
The legislation had the support of the Oregon Medical Association and the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association, which have often been at odds over issues of liability. The proposal emerged from a work group convened last year by Kitzhaber, who’s a physician, as part of his overhaul of delivery of care to 600,000 recipients under the Oregon Health Plan.
Kitzhaber said he wanted the legislation to improve the safety of patients, allow them compensation for medical “events,” and reduce collateral costs to doctors and hospitals such as liability and litigation.
“I didn’t have any preconceived notion of what this would look like,” Kitzhaber said. “I think the result is an innovative piece of legislation that meets all three of these metrics, and also allows physicians and patients to get together to try to address these issues.”
Kitzhaber was flanked at the ceremony by Dr. William “Bud” Pierce, a Salem oncologist who is president of the Oregon Medical Association, and Hala Gores, a Portland lawyer who is president of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.
“We have to be able to open up everything we do – positive and negative – and improve it,” Pierce said afterward. “When you have a system in place that makes people not want to talk about it when things go wrong, it really prevents us from improving our health-care delivery system.”
Without discussing the causes of “undisputed medical errors” and offering a settlement, Pierce said, “How will you improve health care?”
Pierce said the legislation is part of a gradual shift from doctors managing diseases to helping people avoid them in the first place.
Gores said the legislation strikes a balance.
“People’s rights have to be protected, but patients have to get the kind of care they deserve with improved patient safety,” she said.
Kitzhaber also was flanked by the four legislators involved in drafting the bill – Sens. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, and Reps. Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, and Jason Conger, R-Bend – and two senators who are physicians, Alan Bates, D-Medford, and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton.