Features  |   February 2013
Oregon Safe Harbor Study Results: Is There Hope for Improved Medical Liability Transparency Through Use of Guidelines?
Author Affiliations
  • Christopher M. Burkle, M.D., J.D
    Committee on Professional Liability
Article Information
Ethics / Medicolegal Issues / Quality Improvement / Features
Features   |   February 2013
Oregon Safe Harbor Study Results: Is There Hope for Improved Medical Liability Transparency Through Use of Guidelines?
ASA Monitor 02 2013, Vol.77, 12-13.
ASA Monitor 02 2013, Vol.77, 12-13.
Malpractice reform advocates suggest that medical care consistent with established practice guidelines may serve as a “safe harbor” to protect physicians from medical malpractice litigation. Last year, the state of Oregon completed work on a federally funded study exploring potential improvements to both patient safety and the medical liability system through implementation of medical practice guidelines. The study evaluated whether adoption of guidelines may provide greater clarity of the standard of care expected of practitioners while affording liability protection (safe harbor) when followed.1 
The concept of safe harbor legislation is not new. In 1990, Maine adopted legislation applying practice guidelines to four high-liability-risk specialties (anesthesiology, emergency medicine, OB/GYN and radiology).2  Under the state’s plan, compliance with guidelines could be pleaded by providers alone (“one sided” use) as a defense against a malpractice claim. Since enactment, only one provider in Maine has asserted a guideline defense. Following Maine’s initiative, the states of Minnesota, Vermont and Florida passed similar medical liability guideline legislation in the 1990s.2  Minnesota, like Maine, only allows for “one sided” use (the health care provider may provide guideline adherence as a defense to a claim) whereas Vermont and Florida permit both the defendant and plaintiff to bring forth evidence of compliance, or lack thereof, with guideline use. To date, neither Minnesota nor Florida has issued any specific medical care guidelines.2 
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