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Two new Senate bills take steps backward in patient safety

A new bill introduced by Michigan Senators Arlan Meekhof, John Moolenaar and Virgil Smith would take liability away from medical professionals whose "conduct at issues constituted the exercise of professional judgment."

The bill states: "A person exercises professional judgment if the person acts with a reasonable and good-faith believe that the person's conduct is both well founded in medicine and in the best interests of the patient."

Some are worried that, if passed, this bill would prevent medical malpractice lawsuits against individuals such as Doctor Yasser Awaad, the man who improperly diagnosed hundreds of children with epilepsy. The parents of those children are now involved in a class action lawsuit against Awaad, claiming that his actions caused both psychological and physical damage to their children, who were placed on heavy medication.

Parents, as well as medical malpractice attorneys and safety advocates, believe this bill takes a step in the wrong direction - a step away from patient safety.

Another bill introduced by the same Senators (SB 1117) would change the requirements for who can give expert testimony in medical malpractice cases. Under the bill, a medical expert would need to meet the following criteria:

  • The expert must specialize in the same health profession as the health care professional who is accused of medical malpractice at the time of the occurrence.
  • In the prior year, the expert must have devoted a majority of his or her professional time to either the active clinical practice of the same health profession or have taught students in that field.

Currently, whether an expert is qualified to provide testimony in a Michigan medical malpractice case depends on a number of factors, including his or her educational and professional training, the area of specialization and the length of time that the expert was engaged in the health profession or specialty.

These bills are in the infant stage in the Michigan Legislature. Only time will tell whether they become a reality.

Source: ABC, "Parents fear new State Senate bill protects malpracticing doctors," Tara Edwards, May 10, 2012.

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