Governor Deval Patrick recently signed new legislation in Massachusetts aimed at reducing healthcare costs and improving medical malpractice processes by focusing on patient safety. Proponents of the legislation hope it will help to reduce unnecessary lawsuits, use of “defensive medicines” rather than evidence-based medicine, and underreporting of medical errors. It has gained considerable support from both physicians and attorneys.
The Law requires doctors who make medical errors while treating patients to disclose their mistakes, and includes a 182 day “cooling-off” period during which the plaintiff and defendant can exchange information to try and reach a settlement, and the health care providers can acknowledge making a mistake without it being used as an admission of liability. According to Dr. Alan Woodward, the former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, many doctors would underreport mistakes for fear of retribution. The new law aspires to take such fear out of the system, allowing doctors to admit their mistakes and as a result more effectively prevent them in the future.
It remains to be seen what effect the new law will ultimately have on medical malpractice lawsuits, but many are optimistic that these changes will greatly improve patient rights and safety as well as help cases, when they do arise, to be resolved in a more timely and just fashion.