Artificial Intelligence, Medical Malpractice, and the End of Defensive Medicine

By Shailin Thomas

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms are the centerpieces of many exciting technologies currently in development. From self-driving Teslas to in-home assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, AI is swiftly becoming the hot new focus of the tech industry. Even those outside Silicon Valley have taken notice — Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center and the MIT Media Lab are collaborating on a $27 million fund to ensure that AI develops in an ethical, socially responsible way. One area in which machine learning and artificial intelligence are poised to make a substantial impact is health care diagnosis and decision-making. As Nicholson Price notes in his piece Black Box Medicine, Medicine “already does and increasingly will use the combination of large-scale high-quality datasets with sophisticated predictive algorithms to identify and use implicit, complex connections between multiple patient characteristics.” These connections will allow doctors to increase the precision and accuracy of their diagnoses and decisions, identifying and treating illnesses better than ever before.

As it improves, the introduction of AI to medical diagnosis and decision-making has the potential to greatly reduce the number of medical errors and misdiagnoses — and allow diagnosis based on physiological relationships we don’t even know exist. As Price notes, “a large, rich dataset and machine learning techniques enable many predictions based on complex connections between patient characteristics and expected treatment results without explicitly identifying or understanding those connections.” However, by shifting pieces of the decision-making process to an algorithm, increased reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning could complicate potential malpractice claims when doctors pursue improper treatment as the result of an algorithm error. In it’s simplest form, the medical malpractice regime in the United States is a professional tort system that holds physicians liable when the care they provide to patients deviates from accepted standards so much as to constitute negligence or recklessness. The system has evolved around the conception of the physician as the trusted expert, and presumes for the most part that the diagnosing or treating physician is entirely responsible for her decisions — and thus responsible if the care provided is negligent or reckless. Continue reading

CMS Publishes Final Rule Revising and Expanding Conditions for HHA Participation in Medicare and Medicaid

By Wendy S. Salkin

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a rule concerning home health agencies on January 9th, “Medicare and Medicaid Program: Conditions of Participation for Home Health Agencies.” The rule has been a long time coming, since the proposed rules were set forth on October 9, 2014. This is the first time that CMS has successfully updated the home health agency (HHA) conditions of participation (CoPs) since 1989.

The aim of the final rule, according to CMS, is to “improve the quality of health care services for Medicare and Medicaid patients and strengthen patients’ rights.” The final rule

revises the conditions of participation (CoPs) that home health agencies (HHAs) must meet in order to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The requirements focus on the care delivered to patients by HHAs, reflect an interdisciplinary view of patient care, allow HHAs greater flexibility in meeting quality care standards, and eliminate unnecessary procedural requirements.

According to CMS,

[t]hese changes are an integral part of [the Agency’s] overall effort to achieve broad-based, measurable improvements in the quality of care furnished through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, while at the same time eliminating unnecessary procedural burdens on providers.

As is likely well known to readers, the use of home health services in the United States is widespread. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, as of 2014, there were 12,400 home health agencies in the United States and, during 2013, 4.9 million patients in the United States received and ended care from home healthcare workers. These numbers have since risen, and today in the United States there are nearly 12,600 Medicare and Medicaid-participating home health agencies and more than 5 million patients. Home health care serves a wide range of purposes. The Medicare website touts it as “usually less expensive, more convenient, and just as effective as care you get in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF).” In addition to serving the aims of treating illness or injury, according to Medicare home health care “helps [patients] get better, regain [their] independence, and become as self-sufficient as possible.” Some examples of what home health care providers do with and for patients, upon doctor’s orders, include: wound care, patient and caregiver education, intravenous or nutrition therapy, injections, monitoring patient health condition, monitoring patient drug and treatment use, teaching patients how to care for themselves, and coordinating care between the patient, their doctor, and any other caregivers. Continue reading