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Massachusetts passes legislation to decrease defensive medicine

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill Monday designed to control the state’s healthcare costs. Included in the legislation is an overhaul of the medical liability system, which proponents say will decrease the cost of defensive medicine.

[Also: Defensive medicine adds billions to annual U.S. healthcare costs]

The legislation contains specific language that facilitates an approach called Disclosure, Apology and Offer (DA&O) to address medical malpractice claims. Advocates say the program is an alternative to the current tort system, which many health professionals believe is inefficient, drives health costs higher and is unduly burdensome to patients, physicians and the healthcare system.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the cost of defensive medicine, it is generally thought to add 10 to 20 percent to the annual cost of healthcare nationwide. The bill aims to reduce the amount by providing a six-month, pre-litigation resolution period between providers and patients.

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[Also: Massachusetts hospitals launch initiative to curb defensive medicine costs]

Led by the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS), six healthcare organizations launched an initiative in mid-April called Roadmap to Reform, which included the DA&O approach. In addition to MMS, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Baystate Health, Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors, Massachusetts Hospital Association and Medically Induced Trauma Support Services are participating in the alliance.
 
Alan Woodward, MD, chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Professional Liability and a past president of the organization said in a statement, “This agreement is an extraordinary accomplishment. It will encourage transparency and honesty, protect the rights of patients who have been harmed by avoidable events, improve patient safety, reduce litigation and ultimately cut healthcare costs.”
 
“I applaud the members of the legal profession for their collaboration to bring about this agreement and thank the legislature and the governor for their support,” Woodward added. “This is yet another example of Massachusetts' national leadership in healthcare reform.”

In an interview with Healthcare Finance News in April, Woodward said the goal of DA&O is to improve the state’s healthcare system.

“We want a system that is fair, more equitable, more just for patients and a system that improves patient safety,” he said.

“The system now is onerous for both patients and physicians,” said Woodward, noting that concern over possible litigation discourages transparency, inhibits communication between caregivers and patients, burdens physicians with excessive premiums and motivates physicians to practice defensive medicine.

“Our primary focus is full disclosure to the patient, putting a system in place to prevent reoccurrence and, if necessary, compensating patients for their losses,” he said. “If you ask patients, this is what they want.”