January 2019 Newsletter

Pennsylvania liability rule change could lead to increase in lawsuit abuse

A rule that helped stabilize the medical liability market in Pennsylvania faces the threat of repeal, bringing worry that medical lawsuit abuse could return.

Implemented in 2002, reforms mandated that medical liability claims could only stand trial in the county where the alleged medical error occurred to avoid “venue shopping” lawsuits to courts that had a history of favoring large verdicts and personal injury attorneys.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court now proposes eliminating that rule, allowing victims to file lawsuits in any county where the defendant does business — even if the incident in question occurred elsewhere.

A coalition that includes the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) cites this rule as the primary reason the system has stabilized to its current point.

“If history is any indication, this could have devastating effects on patient care,” said Danae Powers, MD, president of PAMED. “In the years before we restricted venue shopping, medical liability premiums rose so quickly that some physicians couldn’t obtain the insurance they needed to treat patients. Others chose to leave Pennsylvania or retire.”

The proposed rule is open for public comments between now and Feb. 22.

To read more about how repealing this reform could lead to increases in medical lawsuit abuse and affect patient access to care,
click here.

Op-ed: Moving forward on liability reform advances Minnesota’s health care system

An op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by a family physician and Minnesota state senator highlights what positive progress in health care reform looks like – and how to get there.

The 12 key elements detailed by State Senator Scott Jenson have, in some cases, already led to proposed legislation in the state.

Jenson cites liability reform as one of the elements that stands to have the greatest impact on patient care across the state, by reducing defensive medicine.

“‘Defensive medicine’ is a fact of life with our ‘who’s to blame’ legal lottery system when undesired outcomes occur,” Jenson writes. “And this reality drives up health care costs exorbitantly. Doctors will go to great lengths to avoid gut-wrenching malpractice suits — more tests and consultations are our best defense.”

Jenson highlights the importance of focusing on additional areas of health care system improvements, including transparency and strengthening the patient-physician relationship.

Click here to read a roadmap to reform for Minnesota patients.

Navigating the liability risks – and rewards – of electronic health records

As electronic health records (EHR) evolve and allow physicians to strengthen their clinical capabilities and their relationships with patients, managing liability risks continues to require care and attention.

In a Medscape Perspective on the Business of Medicine, insight into how to best utilize EHRs in practice and as defense against liability claims are shared with practitioners.

“The key issue facing [health care organizations] is how to make use of the EHR’s capabilities to enhance relationships with patients, encourage adherence to care recommendations, and address the demands of value-based medicine,” writes Ronald Sterling, member of the Medscape Business of Medicine Advisory Board.

Sterling’s perspective details how the various interfaces with EHRs should be managed to reduce liability risks. In some instances, third-party patient portals maintain their own records of interactions with patients outside of basic systems, and physicians must ensure they can access them. Not doing so would prevent a physician from getting an accurate sense of how a patient’s condition is changing.

Given that EHRs continue to play a growing role in clinical administration, they can also be used to attest to accuracy in a physicians’ treatment – and mitigate these risks.

“Physicians will build a better patient service method, and the underlying records that document care efforts will help protect physicians if a lawsuit occurs,” Sterling concludes.

To read more about the value of EHRs in both patient interactions and avoiding liability claims, click here.