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New bill could give physicians facing malpractice suits a “safe harbor”

At some point in their careers, most doctors will face a medical malpractice lawsuit. Many physicians, particularly those in high risk specialties, will face multiple malpractice claims. Sometimes, mistakes are made and patients are harmed as a result. But, medicine is not an exact science, and in many cases even though there was nothing a medical professional could have done to prevent a poor patient outcome, patients or their families blame healthcare providers.

Even after living up to the appropriate standard of care, healthcare providers and their insurers can find themselves defending medical malpractice claims. If it is ultimately passed into law, a bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives could help doctors and other healthcare providers defend against frivolous claims of medical negligence.

Sponsors say bill would reduce healthcare costs and result in better patient care

The Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act was introduced on March 4 by Republican Congressman Andy Barr and Democratic Congressman Ami Bera, M.D. Under the bill, a set of patient care guidelines would be established by a professional organization using evidence-based principles, and every five years the guidelines would be reviewed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Doctors whose standard of care fell within these guidelines would be shielded from malpractice liability.

"This legislation would lower healthcare costs and improve patient care by reducing medical malpractice and insurance fraud using evidence-based guidelines developed by doctors," said Representative Barr, himself a lawyer, in a statement.

The liability "safe harbor" would be available to doctors if a federal statute was involved in the case or if the care provided was paid for with federal funds. The Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act would also give doctors being sued for malpractice the ability to recover attorneys' fees and other costs in cases in which an independent medical review board approved of their conduct early in the process.

The bill's sponsors claim that not only would the bill reduce costs for malpractice insurers and healthcare professionals by discouraging frivolous lawsuits and simplifying medical malpractice defense, it would also lead to direct patient safety benefits by eliminating incentives to practice "defensive" medicine. Currently, supporters of the bill say fear of being sued can cause doctors to make care decisions that may not be best for the patient, but will protect a physician legally. An example would be ordering an unnecessary test or an unneeded procedure.

Contact a medical malpractice defense lawyer to build a strong legal case

The Congressional Budget Office, which is a nonpartisan organization, says that reforms like those proposed in the Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act could reduce healthcare spending by as much as $64 billion in the coming decade. Even so, it remains to be seen whether the legislation will gain traction.

In the meantime, the best offense to a medical malpractice claim is a good defense. If you are a healthcare professional or a healthcare insurer in need of malpractice defense, an experienced legal team can protect you from the threat of liability. Get in touch with an experienced medical malpractice defense lawyer today if you are being sued for malpractice.