Kentucky’s Legal Liability Climate Impacts Access to Care


By Nancy Swikert, MD



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Most people traveling into the Commonwealth take the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign for granted. But physicians should pay close attention because crossing the border can mean a big difference in terms of legal liability.

Kentuckians want access to quality care from highly-skilled medical professionals, and rightly so. Unfortunately, our current legal liability system heavily favors the wishes of personal injury lawyers and encourages caregivers to keep on driving.

Other states in our region, including Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia, have adopted commonsense tort reforms that provide caregivers a more consistent and predictable environment in which to practice. Kentucky has not, leaving us at a severe disadvantage in attracting and maintaining the very best provider workforce.

Physicians are driven to practice in states where the concern for wrongful lawsuits is much lower. Those who choose to remain in Kentucky do so with the knowledge that any malpractice claim could cause financial ruin and potentially end their career.

One matter in particular—Kentucky not protecting confidential peer review—should raise a red flag for anyone concerned about access to quality health care and the advancement of medical science.

Kentucky remains one of only two states not to allow physicians and health systems to evaluate their actions without the fear of such investigations being made part of a malpractice claim. Such protections allow and encourage a thorough analysis of any situation, along with the creation of systems that could prevent medical mistakes from occurring in the future.

Physicians are not alone when it comes to protected peer review. The airline industry has successfully used a similar system for many years to advance best practices, improve procedures and ensure passenger safety.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky Supreme Court has indicated these findings may be subject to the pilfering of personal injury lawyers, making the Commonwealth an outlier and potentially putting our physicians and hospitals in legal jeopardy.

Allowing self-critical analyses to be part of a malpractice action creates a chilling effect that impedes information sharing and hinders the overall advancement of medical care. The result is a significant patient safety and public health issue about which all Kentuckians should be very concerned.

We talk a lot in the state about the need to improve patient care. We now have a proven opportunity to do it. State Senator Ralph Alvarado’s Senate Bill 18 would accomplish this by establishing a clear standard of peer review.

This important legislation should be a priority during the 2017 legislative session as it would immediately benefit access to quality health care across the Commonwealth. I encourage lawmakers to quickly adopt Senate Bill 18 and ensure the advancement of life-saving medical science.

Only then will the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign resonate with providers looking to call Kentucky home.

Nancy Swikert, MD, is the president of the Kentucky Medical Association. She has practiced medicine for more than 30 years, and currently works for St. Elizabeth Physicians.

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By Nancy Swikert, MD

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