Editorial: Mediation is only one step in malpractice reform

Oregon’s new medical mediation program may stop some medical lawsuits. It shouldn’t stop pursuit of medical liability reform.

Oregon’s mediation program officially started Tuesday. The Legislature passed the law creating it in 2013, but it takes time to set something like this up.

Basically, a patient, the patient’s family, a health care provider or a health care facility can initiate the mediation process. The parties can sit down and discuss what happened and why. Compensation can be offered. A state-approved mediator can be brought in. Patients can still file a lawsuit, if they are not satisfied with the mediation.

Though there are exceptions, what goes on in the mediation process is confidential and could not be used if a lawsuit is later filed. The mediation program is being run through the Oregon Patient Safety Commission.

Mediation is not going to work for everybody. There will still be medical malpractice lawsuits. But legislators hoped it will help.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said the agreement was the “holy grail of medical legal politics” because both the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association and the Oregon Medical Association supported it.

The bill also got broad support in the Legislature. The only vote against it in the Oregon House was from State Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver.

He made a great point.

“Voluntary mediation does not reach the level of tort reform we need to hold down costs and increase access to health care in Oregon,” Whisnant said at the time.

Oregon should also have a cap on noneconomic damages — those damages for pain and suffering that cannot be accurately quantified.

The Legislature should not think its work is done on medical malpractice reform.