On September 9, 2009, President Obama directed the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) to establish an initiative to help U.S. states and health care systems test models to meet the goals of putting patient safety first and working to reduce preventable injuries, fostering better communication between doctors and their patients, ensuring that patients are compensated in a fair and timely manner for medical injuries (while also reducing the incidence of “frivolous” lawsuits), and reducing medical malpractice liability premiums.
In response, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (“AHRQ”) announced in June 2010 the Medical Liability Reform and Patient Safety Initiative with funding in the amount of $23.2 million for seven, three-year demonstration grants, thirteen one-year planning grants, and a contract to evaluate the initiative and its projects.
The AHRQ recently provided a progress report regarding the efforts that focus on one or more of the following categories of patient safety and medical liability reform innovations: Preventing Harm Through Best Practices (through projects that seek to improve care in clinical areas that frequently are the subject of a large number of medical malpractice claims); Improving Communication With Patients (through projects that seek to understand how health care providers can best communicate medical errors and incidents of medical negligence to patients and their families so that all involved understand the situation and their options for prompt and fair resolution); and, Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution (through projects that seek to improve dispute resolution after a malpractice claim has been filed and by investigating new methods for negotiating settlements that may prevent protracted legal battles that delay resolutions for patients and their families).
Examples Of Some Of The Projects
One of the projects that received $2,982,690 in grants in the category Preventing Harm Through Best Practices that runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013 has as its stated objective to improve perinatal (the period prior to and just after birth) patient safety and demonstrate the relationship between improved patient safety and a reduction in the number of malpractice claims by extending a national collaborative that aims to reduce preventable birth-related injuries by implementing and evaluating the use of perinatal best practices in 16 hospitals in 12 States. The best practices are designed to significantly lower the incidence of certain infrequent but serious injuries that could result in a wide range of harmful outcomes, including birth asphyxia or permanent neurologic disability. So far, the preliminary results from this project show that all participating hospitals have demonstrated high compliance with the improvement interventions, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of adverse events.
One of the projects that received $2,998,083 in grants in the category Improving Communication With Patients that runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013 has as its stated objective to obtain evidence regarding the impact on patient safety and litigation rates of programs that feature improved communication with patients, disclosure of adverse events, early offers of compensation to patients that have been harmed, and learning from mistakes. The process involves the so-called “Seven Pillars” program, which consists of improved event reporting, event investigation, communication with patients, an apology and correction of the problem, investigation of findings, data collection, and education and training of staff.
One of the projects that received $2,999,787 in grants in the category Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution that runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013 has as its stated objective to protect surgery patients from injuries caused by providers’ mistakes and reduce the cost of medical malpractice through the use of an expanded and enhanced “judge-directed negotiation” program currently used in New York’s courts, coupled with a new hospital early disclosure and settlement model. Under this model, a judge with expertise in medical malpractice matters becomes the point person when a plaintiff files a medical malpractice lawsuit, supervising the entire process and convening the parties to discuss the case and help broker a settlement. The judge facilitates the negotiations but does not impose a settlement amount; the plaintiff may move ahead with a medical malpractice lawsuit if the parties do not agree on a settlement. So far, the preliminary results from this project show that judge-led conferences have not encountered any major obstacles, and far more judges signed up for training than initially expected. Attorneys have been receptive to a more hands-on approach to discovery and are very open to early settlement negotiations. Defense attorneys have demonstrated improved communication with hospitals and carriers regarding early case conferences.
If you or someone you know may have suffered injuries as a result of medical malpractice in the U.S., you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may be willing to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you and file a medical malpractice claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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