Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently signed into law a health-care cost containment bill estimated to save $200 billion. The bill was the result of joint negotiations between the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys. All three groups are optimistic about the success of the program to reduce costs and improve the malpractice liability situation.

Among other provisions, the new law requires clinicians who make medical errors while treating patients to disclose the mistakes and clinicians are allowed to apologize to patients without such apologies being used as an admission of liability against them. This is part of what is known as the “Disclosure, Apology and Offer” program. The program involves disclosing errors and unanticipated adverse outcomes to patients, investigating what happened and establishing systems to prevent future occurrences, apologizing to patients, and, when warranted, offering fair financial compensation to injured patients so they do not have to resort to legal action. The law also includes a 182-day “cooling off” period, giving patients and providers time to go through the Disclosure, Apology and Offer process and hopefully resolve cases before they go to court. The new process is thought to be a significant improvement over the current tort system which “can sometimes lead to a culture of silence and a ‘deny and defend’ attitude in the medical community” said a statement by the Massachusetts Medical Society. “This agreement is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Alan Woodward, M.D. chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Professional Liability. “It will encourage transparency and honesty, protect the rights of patients who have been harmed by avoidable events, improve patient safety, reduce litigation, and ultimately cut health-care costs.”

Among the other components in the new bill is a provision to create a task force to study the overuse of medical testing and so called “defensive medicine” where clinicians order unnecessary tests in order to avoid lawsuits.