Is change coming for the Massachusetts medical malpractice system?

Change is indeed coming if the newly formed Massachusetts Alliance for Communication and Resolution following Medical Injury coalition has anything to say about it. The coalition advocates a revolutionary new approach to handling medical negligence situations that begins with having the doctor, nurse or clinic/hospital representative admit that something went wrong.

The new method of "communication, apology and resolution," (better known as "CARe") is multi-purpose, offering peace to patients who are confused and angry after their treatment has gone awry, giving grieving loved ones a sense that an investigation is underway when they have lost a family member, and allowing healthcare providers the opportunity to personally address issues. The hope is that providers will be able to get past their initial wariness at facing negligence/malpractice allegations head-on and instead work with patients to resolve possible claims before a trial is necessary.

Another key benefit of the CARe program is that it will hopefully slash the state's massive annual expenditures - roughly $1.4 billion each year - for so-called "defensive medicine," which comes from doctors ordering unnecessary tests, screenings and procedures in an attempt to ward off future malpractice allegations.

The basics of CARe

The coalition is currently testing the CARe method in six hospitals across the state. The CARe program is based on similar ones around the country aimed at having the healthcare provider:

  • Communicate openly with the patient, acknowledging adverse effects (whether they be the result of negligence/malpractice, an unexpected side effect, an undisclosed condition in the patient or just bad luck), keeping the patient up-to-date about the progress of findings of an investigation into the incident and passing along planned systemic changes that could keep a similar situation from occurring in the future
  • Apologize where appropriate
  • Resolve the claim in an expeditious manner, offer fair compensation in an expeditious manner when warranted and implement new policies or procedures to protect other patients

The interplay of CARe and state law

The passage of the Massachusetts Payment Reform Bill (MPRB) enacted in 2012 bolstered the idea of opening lines of communication between patients and providers in the spirit of the CARe approach. The MPRB establishes a six-month pre-litigation resolution period for medical negligence claims during which doctors have the freedom to communicate openly and honestly with patients without fear that their words will come back to haunt them in court.

Even if no legal action is filed, patients have the right to have an attorney represent them in any dealings with physicians, nurses, other care providers and representatives from hospitals and clinics. In fact, patients can choose to seek legal counsel to help protect their rights immediately after an incident of malpractice or negligence has been discovered.

It remains to be seen whether the CARe program will be implemented in all hospitals in the state, but one thing is clear: the current Massachusetts medical malpractice system is complex and difficult to navigate. Do you suspect that yourself or a loved one has been the victim of medical negligence? Are you interested in learning more about a possible medical malpractice claim? If so, speak with an experienced attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options you may have to hold the responsible parties accountable.