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Court ruling could impact health care

I am writing to voice my opposition to a proposed state Supreme Court rule that, if enacted, could have negative impacts on patient care.

I started my orthopedic surgery practice in Altoona in 1986, having come here directly out of residency and fellowship in New York City.

Central Pennsylvania appeared to be a nice place to practice and raise a family. That has turned out to be the case.

However, in the early 1990s, venue shopping put such strain on the medical liability system that medical liability insurance became almost unaffordable, defensive medicine was bankrupting the health care system, and I thought I was going to have to leave the state.

It was that crisis which cause me to become active in organized medicine, and, thankfully, Pennsylvania adopted new laws which addressed a number of deficiencies in the system in 2002.

One of the key rules essentially eliminated venue shopping by restricting medical liability claims to the county where the alleged medical error took place.

This past December, the Pa. Supreme Court’s Civil Procedural Rules Committee proposed that the courts remove the restriction on venue shopping.

During the last crisis in the 1990s, before the restriction on venue shopping, it was very difficult to recruit new physicians to come to Pennsylvania to practice, because the liability crisis was well known.

If this rule change goes into effect, we risk having that same problem again.

I am 66 years old, and I am the only hand surgeon serving a six-county area. Who is going to come to Pennsylvania to replace me? I have made a home in Hollidaysburg and Altoona and would love to remain here for my retirement. But who is going to take care of ME?

I want to make it clear that through all of the discussions about medial liability, the Pennsylvania Medical Society has always taken the position that patients who are injured as the result of medical errors should be justly compensated for their loss.

That continues to be the case, and I submit that the current system is fulfilling that goal.

Allowing plaintiff attorneys to venue shop does not address a need to just compensation for injuries, because that need is met by the current system.

It would, however, subject the good people of my area to the potential need to travel to far corners of the commonwealth to address legal matters, which is intrusive and unnecessary.

I truly love what I do. I am privileged to have the opportunity to restore function to peoples’ hands when they are injured, crippled or deformed.

It has been a wonderful calling, and I hope to do it for another decade.

But if the liability climate changes back to what it was the last time we dealt with this, retirement might look awfully tempting. And there’s not going to be anyone banging down the door to take my place.

For all of the reasons stated above, I urge the committee not to adopt the proposed changes to rule 1006. I also encourage you to visit www.pamedsoc.org/venuerule to learn more and comment to the courts yourself.

Dr. Andrew Gurman is a former president of the American Medical Association and a former Speaker of the House of Delegates at the Pennsylvania Medical Society.