Iowa is the latest state to launch a unique strategy that aims to reduce medical malpractice lawsuits and bolster doctor-patient communication after poor outcomes, while encouraging swift resolution. The Communication and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) law, which took effect in July, permits privileged discussions between Iowa physicians and patients after medical errors and allows for compensation offers, when appropriate.
After years of failing to enact traditional tort reform, the alternative method is hoped to decrease litigation costs and keep doctors and patients out of a flawed court system, said Dr. Michael McCoy, chair of the Iowa Medical Society Ad Hoc Tort Reform Task Force and a West Burlington obstetrician-gynecologist.
“If there’s an untoward outcome, the current system creates isolation,” he said. “The patients get alienated, and the doctors get stressed. That’s the exact opposite of what should happen. You should be able to talk to patients and feel protection. That’s what this law does.”
About 36 states have so-called “apology laws” that prohibit certain statements, expressions, or other evidence from being admissible in a malpractice lawsuit, according to data from Sorry Works!, an advocacy group that tracks apology statutes. Most apology laws cover expressions of empathy or sympathy, while some statutes protect admissions of fault. At least three states – including Iowa – go a step further, laying the foundation for early disclosure of errors, communication between physicians and patients, and negotiation of potential resolutions. Oregon’s Early Discussion and Resolution (EDR) law, which passed in 2013, allows both providers and patients to initiate conversations after adverse events, discuss what happened, and resolve the issue outside of court. Massachusetts’ 2012 disclosure, apology, and offer legislation includes a 182-day waiting period before lawsuits can be filed to allow for the process. Other states, including Washington, Texas, California, and Utah have expressed interest in enacting similar laws.
Efforts in Iowa, Oregon, and Massachusetts were driven by the successes of similar programs at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, Chicago and at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, among others. Since the University of Michigan began its CANDOR program in 2001, average legal expenses per case have been cut in half, according to the UM data. The health system’s presuit claims have gone from 260 annually to about 100 per year. Pilot efforts by the University of Illinois (Chicago) Hospital and Health Sciences System since 2006 have increased adverse event reports from 1,500 per year to 10,000 while decreasing malpractice premiums by $15 million dollars since 2010.
But questions remain as to whether such approaches are successful when implemented on a state level. So far, the majority of data on early discussion, apology, and offer programs have come from closed systems, such as academic medical centers.
“We’re starting to look at how this works in an open system when you try to disseminate it across a state,” said Dr. Alan C. Woodward, chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Professional Liability and cofounder of the Massachusetts Alliance for Communication and Resolution following Medical Injury (MACRMI). “If we can show this is an effective model in a statewide distribution, the hope is that multiple other states will follow suit, because this is clearly a better alternative for patients and providers and for patient safety improvement efforts.”
Massachusetts program showing promise
In Massachusetts, the state’s CANDOR law enabled MACRMI to roll out its Communication, Apology, and Resolution (CARe) model at six hospital pilot sites. MACRMI was formed as part of a research initiative led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, and the Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham, and funded by a 2010 grant from the Federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
Under the CARe model, participating health providers communicate with patients and families after an unanticipated adverse outcome, investigate and explain what happened, and where appropriate, apologize and offer fair financial compensation. Data collection in the 3-year study trial closed in December 2015, and the alliance plans to publish its findings in spring 2016. The model has greatly expedited case resolutions, Dr. Woodward said. A case in the CARe program can be resolved in 6 months or less, compared with a lawsuit that can take up to 5 years to resolve. By April 2015, the alliance had screened 856 cases. In three-quarters of cases, the care provided was deemed appropriate, Dr. Woodward said. Of these cases, 615 were closed after full-disclosure meetings with patients. Of the total cases screened, 122 cases were referred to an insurer for resolution, and 93 cases were awaiting further evaluation.