Risky business: Lawsuit venue shopping harms access to care

An overview of Pennsylvania’s recent proposed changes to lawsuit venue filing rules highlights the risk it adds to accessible and affordable care.

Following a surge of liability lawsuits in locations that were seen as ruling favorably to plaintiffs, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a rule that required a plaintiff to file the lawsuit in the county where the alleged medical error occurred. When recent discussions on changes to this rule to allow for “venue shopping” were made public, justices agreed to delay any changes until a legislative study could be done on the matter.

A public hearing made the position of access to care advocates clear: “…Doctors and hospitals would be reluctant to partner with facilities located in a city where juries tend to favor plaintiffs over defendants, rewarding the former with sizable judgments,” a recent Medscape article reflected.

Restrictions on venue shopping have reduced medical lawsuit abuse in the state of Pennsylvania, bringing the state’s medical liability compensation fund to a record surplus.

The risks of venue shopping “will need to [be weighed] carefully before deciding whether the venue rule should stand as it is or be altered,” the article concluded.

For more information on the lay of the liability landscape in Pennsylvania, click here.

Opinion: Clear benefits when physicians are transparent with patients

The Dean of the University of Michigan Medical School outlined in an opinion piece how the medical system has bolstered its relationship with patients to help address medical liability.

Highlighting the high cost of defending against lawsuits, the majority of which are ultimately dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn, Dean Marschall S. Runge, M.D., Ph.D., cited the medical system’s thesis when it comes to liability issues: “Malpractice cases often have less to do with the quality of the treatment delivered than with quality of the relationship between patients and their doctors and the health care system,” he wrote.

Runge described how Michigan physicians have become more open with the patients they’ve treated – even in cases with adverse outcomes.

“We developed a transparent system in which the hospital was willing to acknowledge mistakes and to explain why some bad outcomes were nobody’s fault,” he stated. “In the first six years, malpractice claims dropped by 36 percent and attorney and patient compensation declined 59 percent, as we honored our obligation to patients who did not receive the treatment they should have and helped other patients understand the factors that influenced their outcomes.”

The approach was endorsed by the federal government and disseminated to medical systems through a CANDOR [Communication and Optimal Resolution] Toolkit, which emphasizes open communication in resolving claims of negligence.

With an overall focus on improving care and outcomes, Michigan’s model and other similar initiatives “remind us that the doctor/patient relationship is just that — which, like all relationships, depends on the trust built through open communication.”
To read more about this approach in reducing medical lawsuit abuse, click here.

Wisconsin gets high marks on physician practice environment

Wisconsin has been noted as one of the top states for physicians to practice medicine, in part due to a favorable liability environment.
Ranking second overall, the study by WalletHub.com combined scores for opportunity and competition, as well as medical environment. The medical environment section took liability rates into account.
“The malpractice payout is the smallest nationwide, and the annual malpractice liability insurance rate is the third lowest,” said Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst. “These all speak to the quality of the state’s medical environment.”
Eric Borgerding, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, highlighted that the rankings pointed to the state’s commitment to a fair and equitable liability system.
“These types of policies are important when recruiting physicians to come to Wisconsin, especially from states where ads for trial lawyers touting mega malpractice payouts are seemingly ubiquitous, even in public restrooms,” Borgerding said.

Click here to read more about how patients and physicians benefit from Wisconsin’s highly regarded health care system.