Scott: Wyoming May Revisit Malpractice Debate

October 26, 2007

A state senator says he expects another debate in Wyoming over medical malpractice reform, this time without focusing on capping damage awards in malpractice cases.

“We are looking for something that is different than caps. They are not an effective solution,” said Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper.

Scott was among more than 50 people who met in Cheyenne on Monday to discuss ways to reduce medical errors. Several speakers were experts brought by the Wyoming Healthcare Commission to discuss what other states and countries are doing about medical malpractice.

Wyoming voters in 2004 nixed a state constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Legislature to limit damage awards in medical malpractice cases. The amendment was a product of a special legislative session.

Voters did approve, however, allowing the Legislature to set up a panel to review medical malpractice cases before they go to court. Lawmakers set up a panel the following year.

But the debate over how to approach medical malpractice continues.

Some speakers suggested an administrative approach to malpractice. The goal would be to take blame away from doctors, focusing instead on hospitals or the whole health care system.

Speakers said that would encourage more reporting of errors and address system breakdowns.

Michelle Mello, an associate professor of health policy and law at Harvard University, said on average each error has three contributing factors.

Dr. Larry Kirven, a physician at Buffalo Family Medical Center, said little has been done to improve patient safety. Rather, he said, the existing system instills fear in physicians and causes them to practice defensive medicine.

“It’s the fear that malpractice is a threat,” Kirven said.

He said changes are needed to restore trust in the patient-doctor relationship.

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