Medical liability reform is one of the major issues for many state medical associations and societies in 2014, according to the American Medical Association this week.  See the AMA wire article here.

New Hampshire is one of those states, and there are a few bills currently in this year’s legislative session dealing with medical liability reform.  One of these, HB 583, is relative to the proceedings of medical injury claims screening panels, the RSA 519-B panels. 

This bill focuses on the "offer of proof," which is described in the bill as "frank, objective, and factual descriptions of the facts made in good faith and without exaggeration."  The bill also states "ive witness testimony shall not be presented."  One of the major concerns about this bill, which the New Hampshire Medical Society opposes, is that without live witnesses, there can’t be any interaction or cross-examination of medical information.  This would likely limit the ability of the three-member screening panel to find out more detailed information upon which to reach a decision.  The current screening panel has been found to be constitutional by a 2012 decision of the New Hampshire Supreme Court

One of the main questions concerning the 519-B screening panels is whether they have been lowering legal costs and resolving medical malpractice cases quicker.  A 2013 report from the New Hampshire Insurance Department states that the percentage of claims using the screening panel process has been declining since 2009 and that the time to close a claim was longer when screening panels were used.

However, a deeper analysis of the Superior Court review of the 519-B panels indicates that 60% of medical malpractice filings resolved before going to a panel hearing, 95% of all panel hearings were completed within two days, and 75% of all panel hearing decisions were unanimous.  The majority of unanimous panel decisions did not go to trial, regardless of whether the finding was for the defense or plaintiff.

Physicians and the public will need to understand the important role that 519-B panels can provide, balanced with the data of whether they are achieving the initial goals that were hoped for at the outset.

Regards,

Stuart J. Glassman, MD

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