Report: Special health courts could achieve medical liability reform

Specialized health courts could help achieve meaningful medical liability reform, suggests a new report from the Center for Health Affairs.

The model for these courts, the report states, would be used when a patient or physician disputes a judgment by an insurer panel on whether a patient is entitled to compensation for medical injuries. This is similar to the current system for workers' compensation claims.

"This is a drastic departure from the way medical liability cases are currently handled and would shift cases from being heard in the traditional court system to being heard in a specialized health court," the report states. "Throughout the process, both parties would have the ability to seek legal counsel if they desired, but it would not be a requirement."

The health court model would also eliminate the use of juries in medical liability claims, and leave decisions on claims entirely up to judges specializing in liability claims. Rather than each side calling opposing witnesses to substantiate their claims, health court judges would have their choice from an impartial expert panel. "Some have even suggested that to ensure neutrality, these experts could come from geographically different areas than where the case originated," the report adds.

The court system would also involve written rulings to clarify precedent and standards of care, and allow appeals, according to the report.

The report cites several positives for implementing health courts, including:

  • Bipartisan support: both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama endorsed the idea in 2012--the first time both major-party candidates supported health courts--and the idea has majority support among Republicans, Democrats and independents;

  • Halting inconsistent rulings: the use of juries in medical liability cases keeps clear care standards from emerging, a problem that would be ended by the use of health courts;

  • Improved patient safety: a "centralized, standardized repository" of information on medical liability claims would help providers identify common causes of medical errors.

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)