Patient centered medical malpractice reform in New Hampshire

My home state of New Hampshire is considering a medical malpractice bill which provides an “early offer” to patients injured by medical mistakes.   My column supporting the measure was published in this morning’s Nashua Telegraph: NH patients deserve ‘early offer’ in malpractice cases.

Under the proposal, injured patients have the option of an early settlement with providers, which guarantees timely payment within months: “Instead of having to wait years without guarantee of any payment, patients can choose to enter a settlement with their medical provider. Medical costs and lost wages would be covered, along with damages for pain and suffering, ranging from $1,700 for minor injuries to $117,000 for grave harm. If there is agreement among the parties, payment is made and the process is over within months, sparing patients from the uncertainty and stress of malpractice ordeals that formally could take years to resolve.”

Contrast that with the current system, which I discussed several years ago in USA Today:

A study from The New England Journal of Medicine provides stark insight. Researchers found that nearly one in six cases involving patients injured from medical errors received no payment. For patients who did receive compensation, they waited an average of five years before their case was decided, with one-third of claims requiring six years or more to resolve. These are long waits for patients and their families, who are forced to endure the uncertainty of whether they will be compensated or not.

And with 54 cents of every dollar injured patients receive used to pay legal and administrative fees, the overhead costs clearly do not justify this level of inefficiency.

It should be emphasized that participation in this program is voluntary.  Patients retain their right to sue doctors with a traditional lawsuit.

Physicians benefit by potentially avoiding the emotional trauma of an extended, adversarial malpractice trial, a process which recent studies have associated with depression, burnout and suicide in doctors.

The bill, SB 406, has passed the New Hampshire Senate and is set for the House judiciary committee on April 17th, 2012.

Putting patients at the forefront of medical malpractice reform, and highlighting how the current system fails them on so many levels, is the most realistic approach to tort reform.  If this bill becomes law in New Hampshire, it should be a medical malpractice model for other states to follow.

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