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Inside Medical Liability

Second Quarter 2021

 

 

PERSPECTIVE

Finding Opportunity in Uncertainty

“Beyond COVID, there remain concerns from the pre-pandemic days that will require attention this year and next.”

By Brian Atchinson, President & CEO

 

Even before the pandemic, innovation had become a recurring theme in business. In fact, AM Best had added innovation as a criterion in its rating methodology for insurance companies.

They began looking at organizations for how they “transform ideas into new or significantly improved products, processes, services, or business models that have a measurable positive impact over time and enable the organization to remain relevant and successful.”

Then COVID-19 forced organizations to quickly convert those theories and plans for reinvention and originality into reality. Healthcare and healthcare delivery has been altered dramatically over the past year. MPL companies have supported insureds during difficult times and provided them with invaluable resources. Telemedicine has opened access to care for many, but it has also impacted the physician-patient relationship and raised important questions about applicable standards of care. Numerous state governments have passed laws or issued executive orders to provide legal protections for healthcare professionals and institutions against the threat of lawsuits for their oftentimes heroic actions in the midst of the pandemic.

But how will these changes play out in the months and years ahead? Telemedicine and digital healthcare offer enormous opportunities, but the potential liabilities they may eventually present are a Pandora’s box of the unknown. Courtrooms are re-opening, but will they be able to effectively and efficiently handle a year’s backlog? Claims frequency has dropped, but 2020 claims data is considered an aberration by some and simply suspect by others. If ever an asterisk or footnote was warranted for an individual year’s data set, the year 2020 is the one. Is there a tidal wave of claims waiting just beyond the horizon? Will state legal protections withstand the expected challenges?

Beyond COVID, there remain concerns from the pre-pandemic days that will require attention this year and next. For example, many organizations throughout the business world in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, and elsewhere are being encouraged or required to enhance their roles as responsible corporate citizens. Many organizations are taking steps to incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices into investment, underwriting, and governance business practices. While these are not new topics, financial rating agencies as well as government authorities are now emphasizing these factors in a growing number of countries.

Of course, patient safety continues to be a high priority in healthcare and within the MPL community. Enormous resources remain dedicated to supporting quality healthcare and safe patient outcomes. Over the last few decades, there have been many studies and reports about the manner in which incidents and patient safety events are handled.

One interesting approach is taking place in Massachusetts, where a coalition of stakeholders have found common ground. The Massachusetts Alliance for Communication and Resolution following Medical Injury has created a unique and groundbreaking approach for healthcare systems and liability insurers throughout that state to respond to cases of medical injury. It is a statewide communications and resolution program that, with 11 facilities with fully implemented programs around the Bay State, is gaining acceptance and may serve as a model for other states.

During this time of ongoing uncertainty, it is important to look ahead to the exciting opportunities and challenges ahead. We may never return to some of our prior activities and customs—just as we will also not see the clock rewind to recreate the healthcare delivery system of just a few years ago.

As the world around us continues to change in response to many factors, so too will this Association evolve in response to the changing needs and priorities of our members. The MPL Association will provide new and updated education and knowledge-sharing opportunities that help our members to thrive. As we begin the process of implementing the Association’s new strategic plan, approved by the Board of Directors in April 2021, we look forward to working with you as we prepare to embrace the future.