Physician opinions: medical liability lawsuits and impact on care

Holding strong opinions about the current liability climate, its impact on patient care, and the way to discourage medical lawsuit abuse, physicians weighed in on the way toward comprehensive medical liability reform.

Surveying over 4100 physicians across more than 25 specialties currently practicing in the US, Medscape captured the prevailing thoughts of physicians who bear the brunt of a broken system that costs too much, takes too long, and undermines their relationship with their patients.

With 55 percent of those taking part in the survey responding that they had been named in a medical liability lawsuit, specialists across surgery and OB/GYN practices were found to be most likely to be sued. Eighty-five percent of respondents in each specialty noted that at one point or another in their careers, they were forced to spend countless hours on defense preparation and in court for lawsuits, that, 40 percent of the time, took between one to two years to resolve.

As a result, 45 percent of physicians report that the threat of medical liability lawsuits are on their mind all or most of the time – a driving factor in the practice of defensive medicine.

When it came to solutions for curbing medical lawsuit abuse, a majority of physicians were in agreement that reasonable limits on non-economic damages, pre-screening lawsuits to weed out those that are meritless, and better communication and rapport with patients should be avenues that are pursued by medical societies and associations working on their behalf at the state and federal level.

The Health Coalition on Liability and Access will continue to actively push for the Senate to take up debate on comprehensive medical liability reform, as it did earlier this year when it successfully secured support for legislation that passed in the House of Representatives.

To read more about the physician opinions on the impact of medical liability reform on patient care, as well as the way forward, click here.

An uncertain future for Kentucky patients following liability ruling

Kentucky patients face an uncertain future after liability reforms passed earlier this year with the intention of ensuring that only liability cases of merit moved forward were struck down – but then allowed to remain in effect after the Appeals Court issued a stay.

The law established medical review panels in order to note which lawsuits lacked merit, and which were substantiated by evidence, and, regardless of their ruling, allowed all patients the ability to proceed with legal action.

After it was struck down by a County Circuit Court, the Kentucky Court of Appeals issued a stay that allowed the review panels to continue.

In its judgment, the Appeals Court noted 89 cases are pending before the medical review panels, and without a stay, they would begin to be subject to expiration of the statute of limitations.

A spokesperson for Governor Matt Bevin said that the administration is encouraged by the ruling and is ready to resume enforcing the law.
Hanging in the balance is the future of Kentucky’s medical liability climate and the ability of deserving patients to quickly and efficiently reach a resolution in legitimate lawsuits.

To read more about the initial ruling click here and here for an update on the stay issued by the Appeals Court.

Dismantling of state liability laws continues with Florida court decision

With a lack of action on liability reform at the federal level, patients remain increasingly subject to changing tides in state legislatures and within state court systems as the Florida Supreme Court becomes the latest to strike down parts of a comprehensive law intended to more efficiently resolve liability lawsuits.

At issue is whether or not the law, passed in 2013 as part of sweeping changes to the state’s liability environment, allows attorneys to receive personal patient information as part of so-called “ex-parte” communications that take place outside the presence of the plaintiff’s attorney.

The justices ruled to strike down the law, which was intended to better gather information about the claims in order to resolve cases before a lengthy trial.

The dissenting justices disagreed that language violated the constitutional right to privacy and said the ruling against the law was an “unwarranted interference with the Legislature’s authority.” They also noted that nothing in the law allowed disclosure of irrelevant medical information during ex parte conversations.

“In short, medical malpractice claimants waive whatever constitutional privacy rights they may have in relevant medical information,” Justice Canady wrote in his minority opinion. “Because the 2013 amendments do not in any way authorize the discussion of irrelevant medical information, medical malpractice claimants have no constitutional right to prevent the ex parte meetings.”
Until comprehensive liability reforms are passed at the federal level, patients in states like Florida will continue to be vulnerable to actions by legislatures and courts that undermine their relationship with patients, resulting in a costly and inefficient medical liability system.

To read more on the ruling in Florida and its impact on the state’s liability climate, click here.