Mass. gets $3M for health liability reform

BOSTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has awarded $23 million in grants to support efforts by states and health systems to implement and evaluate approaches to patient safety and medical liability reform.

The awards include $2.9 million to the Mass. Department of Public Health for a project to engage clinicians, patients, malpractice insurers and state officials to expedite the resolution of medical errors in outpatient practices and improve communication in all aspects of care.

President Barack Obama had announced his intention to offer these grants in an address to Congress last September. He directed HHS to help states and health care systems test models that put patient safety first and work to prevent injuries; foster better communication between doctors and their patients; ensure that patients are compensated in a fair and timely manner for medical injuries; reduce frivolous lawsuits; and reduce liability premiums.

Total funding for the project is $25 million, including $2 million for an evaluation of reforms to the medical liability system and their impact on health care quality, patient safety and medical liability claims.

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The grants were awarded in two categories: three-year awards of up to $3 million to help “jump-start” safety and medical liability reform efforts, and one-year grants of up to $300,000 to plan and evaluate patient safety and medical liability demonstrations.

The agency is also reviewing reforms to the medical liability system and their impact on health care quality, patient safety, and medical liability claims.

“This new research is the largest government investment connecting medical liability to quality and aims to improve the overall quality of health care,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release.

The Massachusetts project will identify key areas contributing to ambulatory medical errors and malpractice suits in order to redesign systems and care processes to prevent, minimize, and mitigate such errors in a group of Massachusetts primary care practices.

In addition, the project aims to transform communications in those practices so they are more patient and family-centered, particularly with respect to proactively seeking out, handling, and learning from patients’ safety experiences, concerns, and complaints, according to a description posted on the HHS website.