The Wall Street Journal reports today that five New Your City hospitals will embark on apilot program to reduce medical malpractice insurance premiums and related costs by divulging medical mistakes promptly, by making settlement offers swiftly, and by utilizing specialized “health courts” to resolve disputes and negotiate settlements before litigation is commenced. The participating hospitals are Manhattan’s Beth Israel Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center and Bronx’s Montefiore Medical Center. The goal of the program, funded with $3 million of federal money, is to reduce medical errors. While New York-Presbyterian Hospital will focus its error prevention onsurgical errors, the four other hospitals will focus their efforts on reducing obstetric errors which have caused significant increases in malpractice insurance rates.
An important aspect of the program is judge-directed mediation, which has been very successful in reducing New York City’s public hospital payouts on malpractice claims by hundreds of millions of dollars over a seven year period. Although the details are still being worked out, Richard C. Boothman, a University of Michigan consultant hired to assist with planning and oversight of the program, has encouraged the hospitals to “handle [claims] in a proactive, principled way . . . [and] if it’s a legitimate lawsuit, step up and resolve it.”
One concern is that injured patients may resolve their claims without the assistance of legal counsel and may short-sell valuable claims. Although jury trials would still be available to individuals who participate in the program, the extent to which they are advised and guided in that direction during the claims or mediation process when they are without legal counsel is unclear.
The lawyers at Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz have written in prior blogs on the need for specialized medical malpractice courts to resolve claims. Our attorneys frequently resolve claims through alternate dispute resolution (ADR) processes of mediation and binding arbitration. Typically, when early ADR is suggested by medical providers or their attorneys, they are, in effect, acknowledging some financial exposure and thus fault for the medical error being alleged. The New York program is an important model to watch over the next several years to determine whether other states, including Maryland, might benefit from a more formalized program of prompt error disclosure and swift settlement of medical malpractice claims.