NY Pilot Program Aimed at Reducing Preventable Medical Mistakes

Each year in the United States, it is estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die as a result of a preventable medical error, making it the 8th leading cause of death in the country. Medical errors also are responsible for causing injury to one out of every 25 hospital patients and cost the U.S. economy between $17 and $29 billion every year.

This fall, five New York City-area hospitals are set to begin a pilot program focused on improving patient safety and reducing preventable medical mistakes, and by doing so reducing costs. During the pilot, the hospitals will use a three-prong approach to medical malpractice claims: admit when mistakes have been made early in the process, offer settlements that fairly compensate victims and use skilled judges to negotiate fair and just settlements between injured patients and the health care providers. Most importantly, the parties will retain their right to a trial by jury if the matter is not resolved by mediation.

The program is overseen by New York State’s Unified Court System and is being funded with $3 million from the federal government over three years. The New York pilot is one of several programs initiated by the government to try to reduce medical malpractice costs by forcing health care providers to learn from their mistakes and change the way they practice. It starts by having hospitals admit when a mistake has occurred and using the information obtained through the claims to reduce similar preventable medical errors in the future. The hope is that the program will demonstrate how the civil justice system helps to keep us safe by identifying unsafe practices and encouraging change.

In New York, Bronx Judge Douglas McKeon has been doing something similar for several years now. Judge McKeon has been credited with creating efficiencies in medical malpractice cases filed against the New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), which runs the city’s public hospitals. In 2009, almost half of the 200 medical malpractice cases against HHC that were mediated were successfully settled.

Concerns about Patient Rights

While many are hopeful about the potential of the pilot to encourage hospitals to be more forthcoming and admit responsibility when a mistake has been made, there are some concerns about how the program will protect patient rights – especially the right to legal representation.

The process does not require parties participating in mediation to be represented by legal counsel. Even though participation in judge-sponsored mediation is voluntary and the pilot program sponsors have said that patients will be notified of their right to have an attorney represent them during mediation, there is concern that attorneys for the health care providers with take advantage of unrepresented injured patients. The fear is that patients who are not represented by an attorney may be convinced to accept inadequate compensation for the harm inflicted upon them.

Additionally, others have raised concerns that a policy of early disclosure and quick settlement will allow those health care providers guilty of committing malpractice to escape full liability for the harm they have caused and may allow them to keep practicing medicine and potentially harm others.

Working With an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a family member has been the victim of a preventable medical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Even if you have decided to participate in mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), it is still important to know your rights and have legal representation during this process to protect your interests.

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