I had the great privilege of discussing the Patients Rights Law with Green Party Bundestag Member, Maria Klein-Schmeink. Frau Klein-Schmeink is a passionate advocate for patients’ rights. Here are a few takeaways from our meeting:
Do you think the Patients Rights Law is effective?
It has strengthened patients’ rights in some ways, but to a large extent, it only codified existing case law without providing any additional benefit.
How can patients’ rights be better advanced in government?
I would like to see patients’ position more represented in government. They should have a spokesperson in Parliament.
What are the biggest challenges that patients face in the event of a medical error?
Without legal insurance, it is hard for victims of medical errors to have access to the courts. The biggest challenge for patients is the burden of proving errors with the current burden of proof rules, because the provider has the knowledge and information that the patient needs to prove that the error occurred.
In what ways has the Patients Rights Law improved patients’ rights?
The law made it easier for patients to get their medical records. Also, the healthcare provider can’t change or hide records, but this is also somewhat a function of technology.
What other additions would you like to see in the law?
I want to see the creation of a fund for hardship cases. This would assist older people with co-morbid conditions who have suffered an adverse event by providing them with a small award regardless of whether an error can be proved under the burden of proof laws.
What do you think of the medical arbitration boards as an alternative for litigation following treatment errors?
The process isn’t perfect, but it is better than nothing. I think this process is good for smaller cases, because they don’t award enough money to compensate the large injuries. The selection of the experts on the board could be improved, because the doctors select the arbitrators and the patients have no input. When the boards do find that there was a breach of the standard of care that caused injury, the award recommendations are fair.
What do you think about patients’ option to get an free expert opinion from their health insurer through cooperation with MDS?
Generally, the MDS experts are not very engaged, but they are more engaged when it is possible for the insurance company to save money on treatment resulting from a medical error. This happens only in cases of clear and severe errors. Also, their reports tend to not be very detailed.
Is there any information about why patients file medical malpractice lawsuits?
Most people file claims, because they want their doctors to acknowledge errors.
Are their any statistics regarding how many errors occur yearly?
About 10 thousand errors are reported annually to MDS, but there are really around 50-60 thousand errors per year.
Do you think that there should be mandatory error reporting in addition to the voluntary error reporting and learning systems?
Yes, mandatory error reporting would ensure more transparency and allow us to maintain a register of all errors. Mandatory and voluntary error reporting systems can co-exist to achieve the goals of learning, prevention, and transparency.
Do you think that information obtained from a mandatory error reporting system should be available for use in litigation?
No. There shouldn’t be any punishment for error reporting of any kind, because trust in the reporting system and absence of punishment is critical to its success.