Cliff Rieders’ Role in the History of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority

May 22nd, 2020 by Rieders Travis in Medical Malpractice

Supreme Court Building | Medical Malpractice Lawyer

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PSA) is a world-renowned, independent state agency collecting information on patient safety from Pennsylvania healthcare facilities, which was intended to make state residents safer. Mr. Rieders was the President of the Trial Lawyers in Pennsylvania the year the law creating the PSA was debated. He was also part of the negotiating team in connection with the legislation which led to the creation of the Patient Safety Authority.

The agency analyzes serious events and incidents. Serious events must also be reported to the Department of Health and to the family or relevant relatives. Incidents are not reported to the family, unfortunately, but they are utilize to detect any dangerous trend going on in the healthcare field or to determine if a single instance might be repeated and threaten patients’ health. Liaisons in the field are supposed to be giving feedback to hospitals and to regions in connection with incidents. The legislation also provides that the Patient Safety Authority can report infrastructure failures to the Department of Health.

The Patient Safety Authority communicates information in multiple ways to healthcare providers. It has also taken some steps in providing warnings to the public, but those are very anemic at the present time. The Patient Safety Authority Advisories to hospitals are very valuable. The Authority has one of the largest patient safety databases in the world, with more than four million event reports.

Pennsylvania is the only state that requires healthcare facilities to report all incidents of harm or potential for injury, even if the injury does not occur. The agency came into being in 2002 as part of the Pennsylvania Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (“Act 13” or “the MCARE Act”). When the law was negotiated, Mr. Rieders, as President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers, now the Pennsylvania Association of Justice, insisted that there would be no tort barriers created absent the creation of the Patient Safety Authority. Such authorities have recommended by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. Cliff Rieders was one of the earliest proponents of the Patient Safety Authority as recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

PSA Can Make a Difference for Pennsylvania’s Patients

The PSA claims two successes on its website:

  • A facility contacted the agency about mistakes made with nasogastric feeding tubes (tubes inserted through the nose into the patient’s stomach to deliver nutrition). Several staff members inserted them in patients’ lungs by mistake, potentially causing pneumonia. PSA found that a manufacturer had changed its tubes, but healthcare workers were improperly inserting them as if they were the older model. PSA diagnosed the cause of the problems and alerted others about the issue.
  • A PSA analyst found a report describing the near-death of a newborn who fell from her mother’s arms while the mother was asleep. She discovered dozens of similar reports across the state every year. Since one facility might rarely see this problem, it may not appreciate the dangers of the situation; however, facilities across the state were warned of this situation because of PSA’s analysis.

Tort Barriers and Its Effect on Patient Safety

The state law that created the Patient Safety Authority also enacted “tort reform.” This is a veil term for barriers often implemented to prevent legitimate medical malpractice cases from being brought. The label applies the efforts to limit the ability of those injured by medical malpractice to sue for compensation. There is also a desire by the healthcare industry to lessen awards for successful claimants. The supposed goal of tort barriers is to encourage doctors to practice in Pennsylvania and maintain a system of medical malpractice insurance. It has been clearly demonstrated that these claims are false. Pennsylvania has consistently increased the number of doctors and healthcare providers since records were first kept in 1973. The ratio between healthcare professionals and patients has increased quite dramatically on behalf of patients. Medical malpractice insurance has been generally available, except in certain low interest rate environments. The bringing of medical malpractice suits has little to no effect in reality when it comes to insurance for doctors and the total national healthcare bill with respect to all medical malpractice patient payouts is anywhere between .5 to 3% of the national healthcare bill.

Over the years, limits on medical malpractice lawsuits have included:

  • If a jury decides a party is 60% or more responsible for the negligence, that party will be responsible for the entire verdict. Under previous law, if there was more than one defendant, any of them could be responsible for the whole judgment. This structure helped plaintiffs if a party was mostly responsible but didn’t have the resources to pay the verdict.
  • A physician must certify that there are reasonable grounds to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has created some tort barriers of its own. The Court has limited medical malpractice lawsuits to being filed where the alleged negligence occurred, regardless of where the big medical malpractice entity might actually do business. Patient safety is the priority for patient advocates like malpractice attorneys. Medical malpractice lawsuits can hold negligent healthcare providers accountable for their mistakes, encouraging better and safer medical practices. As tort reform passed in Pennsylvania, patient safety has suffered. According to The Morning Call, the PSA stated that the number of reported medical errors or accidents in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities grew by 327 percent, to 302,515, between 2004 and 2017.

Attorney Cliff Rieders Makes Patient Safety a Priority

During this process and over the years, tort reform advocates, including leaders of the state’s most prominent healthcare institutions, learned from Mr. Rieders the importance of being honest with patients, addressing legitimate disputes early, and talking with young doctors about the need to prioritize patient safety. In less than 15 years, the concern about “tort reform” has switched to a desire for “patient safety.” People now react more positively to “patient safety” than “tort reform.”

Mr. Rieders is one of the only lawyers who has ever served on two Pennsylvania Supreme Court committees: The Standard Jury Instruction Committee and the Rules Committee. Viewed as a nationally Board-Certified trial lawyer with a number of textbooks in print, including on medical malpractice. Rieders is a frequent op-ed contributor and is a past president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, now the Pennsylvania Association of Justice. Rieders has received numerous awards for his amicus curiae, Friend of the Court work, as well as many other outstanding achievements. Rieders is a cum laude graduate of New York University, Phi Beta Kappa, Code of Arms and graduated from Georgetown University Law Center with a juris doctorate degree. Rieders’ epic juris doctoral thesis on America’s oil import “policy” sets the stage for an understanding of the relationship between oil imports, prices and national security.