A medical malpractice case is a lengthy, drawn-out process. For the lawyer, it’s a period of extensive research, and for the plaintiff, it’s presenting an effective case an attorney will take on. The doctor and medical insurance company, meanwhile, deny and withhold important information. To lead to smoother, quicker resolutions, improve patient safety, and ultimately lower costs, Massachusetts, a state where Trantolo & Trantolo is licensed to practice, enacted a new healthcare cost control law, which includes a “Disclose, Apology and Offer” section regarding malpractice.
Disclose, Apology & Offer (or DA&O) has two basic premises: physician disclosure and a six-month resolution period. For the former, doctors will need to disclose any unanticipated negative outcomes, look into and explain to the patient what went wrong, have a system in place to improve overall patient safety and to guard against a reoccurrence, and apologize to the patient and offer fair compensation. This latter point is predicted to reduce the amount of medical malpractices cases that go to court.
The six-month resolution period allows the patient, physician, and insurer to settle a case. During this time, medical professionals have the opportunity to apologize to patients without fear their statements will be used against them.
With this law going into effect on August 6, Massachusetts is the first state to enact comprehensive medical malpractice legislation. Nevertheless, the law does not block patients from consulting a medical malpractice attorney for rights, examining the settlement offer, or preparing for legal action. Regarding this legislation, Alan Woodward, the chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Professional Liability, said in a statement: “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 health care costs.”
In Massachusetts, however, DA&O is not entirely new. In May, the American Medical News reported that seven state hospitals had put such procedures, modeled after those from the University of Michigan Health System, into place. Additionally, Stanford University Hospital in California, also using a similar approach, saved $3.2 million in annual premiums. The goal, at the time, was creating better communication between the patient and provider. For the medical professional, the changes, according to Paula Griswold, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors, were to engender “a safer environment where if something happens, [doctors] don’t feel they are going to be blamed personally. They [are] more open to discussing. That information is used by the organization not just to compensate, but to change how care [is delivered].”
On the other hand, lawyers based in Massachusetts have reacted sceptically to the new changes. According to the Boston Business Journal, local attorneys believe the new law will have no effect but that the present is too soon to make a full assessment. Other Massachusetts law professionals, on the contrary, added that the new rules could improve patients’ rights and offer better transparency, which could lead to cases being resolved sooner.