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Could safe harbor provisions improve patient care?

After decades of changes and law changes in a majority of states, it appears that medical malpractice reform is still a controversial topic. Indeed, physicians (and insurers) are afraid of multi-million dollar malpractice awards, and the way medicine is practiced (with defensive medicine) is indicative of this. With that said, wouldn’t it be worth taking a chance on another form of reform?

In a prior post we discussed the prospect of safe harbors, which essentially are ways for physicians to correct potential wrongs, or give additional recommendations to correct them, without the fear of admitting to facts that would give rise to a medical malpractice suit. The prospect is important because it may improve patient care. After all, the goal of such rules would be to protect doctors from frivolous lawsuits. With this fear effectively abated, doctors are likely to focus on real health issues, instead of testing to rule out things out of fear of a lawsuit down the road based on a missed diagnosis.

Ironically, according to a study conducted in Oregon where researchers reviewed cases to determine if safe harbor rules would help doctors, it turns out that they probably would work against them. Only a handful of cases would have been decided differently, according to a recent Forbes article. However, the researchers found that patient care would have been improved since the safe harbor rules would protect doctors who follow specific care guidelines.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that safe harbor legislation will be coming anytime soon. 

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