Malpractice Law Could Mean Fewer Lawsuits

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One plank of Gov. Deval Patrick's plan to bring down soaring health care costs in Massachusetts is to change the laws around medical malpractice.

Under proposed changes, doctors in Massachusetts would be able to apologize to patients — without the risk that their apology could be used against them later, in court. The state would also implement a six-month "cooling off period," so that hospitals and patients could try to resolve problems without lawsuits.

Rick Boothman, the chief risk officer at the University of Michigan health system, uses some of the ideas that Patrick is proposing. If his hospital makes a mistake, they tell the family they're at fault and apologize — without the condition that the family won't sue.

"The causal connection between our approach and the reduction of lawsuits is a complicated matter. Numbers of cases are down in general," Boothman told Morning Edition host Bob Oakes.

Boothman said the number of claims has come down, too.

"If you look at our claims history for many years leading up to 2001, 2002, we were running around 300 claims a year. Since then, we have been perking around now at around 80 to 90 claims open."

As far as one of the biggest lessons learned in transitioning to their current malpractice laws, Boothman said, "is in order to make patients safer, we have to make doctors safer. We have to find a way to keep physicians and nurses professionally accountable, but we have to make the system far less punitive."

This program aired on March 2, 2011.

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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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