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Michigan Senate: Patient Safety vs. Malpractice Concerns

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 By Mary Anne MeyersContact
May 22, 2012

LANSING, Mich. - In Lansing today, a state Senate committee takes up a series of bills supposed to reform malpractice laws in the state. Proponents say they will protect doctors from frivolous lawsuits.

But Marie Woolen, whose son was treated for epilepsy that he never had, says she's worried that the laws may wind up leaving people like her with no recourse.

"I do understand that there are people that do falsely claim medical malpractice. I do understand that. But, I also in turn understand that there are many people affected that also have been negligently harmed."

Woolen says her son has been permanently harmed by heavy doses of medication prescribed by his doctor. She is one of more than 200 patients who say that same doctor misdiagnosed their children as well. The state of Michigan put him on probation and he has since left the country.

Woolen's son now is being treated for developmental delays that she says he didn't have before being given the wrong medications. She says she would like to ask that doctor one question:

"How is the brain developing healthy if you're giving him medicine for an illness he didn't even have?"

Nancy Savageau is one of the attorneys handling the class-action lawsuit. She says most doctors do the right thing, but the few who don't fall through the cracks in the system.

"The state of Michigan missed 220 doctors that were dismissed by their hospitals for a variety of reasons. They failed to bring any disciplinary action against those 220 doctors."

Savageau says she has a problem with the language in one of the bills that says a doctor "is not liable in an action alleging medical malpractice if the person's conduct at issue constituted the exercise of professional judgment."

The University of Michigan hospital system is taking a new approach that balances tort reform with patient safety. It focuses on admitting mistakes and compensating patients quickly to prevent lawsuits.

The Institute of Medicine reports that 98,000 deaths a year are caused by medical errors and an AARP report says U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week.

The University of Michigan model is at tinyurl.com/boo5sz8.

The proposed bills at issue are Michigan Senate bills 1115 through 1118.

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