As our lawmakers in the Iowa House and Senate debate health care reform, I hope they also consider making reforms to our medical malpractice system.
Our system takes years to resolve cases, and that’s not good for patients or their physicians. It’s also costly, and we need to look at what other states are doing to drive down costs and make their systems more responsive.
State Rep. Chip Baltimore has sponsored a bill that would make meaningful changes for Iowans. One of his proposals concentrates on eliminating the practice of defensive medicine, which may occur when physicians feel pressured to order unnecessary tests and procedures to protect themselves from the threat of a lawsuit. This practice does nothing to help patients, and in some cases, it can even be harmful.
Rep. Baltimore is recommending that Iowa adopt a “safe harbor for evidence-based medicine” that would allow physicians who follow well-established guidelines for care to use as a legal defense if they are sued, if they maintain that the care they provided was consistent with good medicine. If patients don’t agree with that assessment, they can present evidence to the contrary. A judge then decides the case after all the evidence is presented. This reform provides an added level of protection for physicians who decline to order costly tests and procedures that are not medically necessary.
This safe harbor concept is an innovative solution that does nothing to prevent someone from having their day in court. It does, however, give physicians the freedom to focus on providing the best possible care for their patients.
Kenneth Wayne, MD