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The Providence Business Journal reports today that Massachusetts was one of several states to be awarded a grant for the Department of Health and Human Services to create certain pilot projects aimed at studying patient safety and liability lawsuits:

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.

The Providence Business Journal describes the government program:

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.

The key to successful programs will be whether there is an emphasis on patient safety or if the state just tries to utilize the funding as a means to block the court house door to victims of medical negligence.

We all know that patients are injured due to medical errors too frequently. In fact, the Institute of Medicine reports that as many as 98,000 people die each year of medical errors. Hopefully the efforts by HHS and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will focus on preventing these needless deaths.

There will certainly be pressure to erect barriers to lawsuits. But if the Department of Public Health focuses its efforts on patient safety, they will certainly see a reduction in lawsuits. The fact is, no one wants to bring a lawsuit; no one wants to lose a loved one due to medical negligence.

So here’s hoping that the Department of Public Health attacks the cause of malpractice suits–medical errors leading to patient injury or death–rather than attacking one effect of medical errors, i.e. lawsuits.

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