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Ohio Supreme Court Justice visits Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine

ATHENS, Ohio (May 11, 2004) -- Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell visited Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine recently to learn more about the economic impact of the professional liability issue on access to health care for rural and underserved areas of the state. This effect, in turn, affects OU-COM's efforts to prepare osteopathic physicians for practice.

Terrence O'DonnellDuring the visit, OU-COM Dean Jack Brose, D.O., shared with O'Donnell the college's role in developing physicians who serve Ohioans and the college's significant contribution to health care in the Appalachian region.

Justice O'Donnell occupies one of the three contested seats on the Supreme Court up for re-election. He said his campaign has provided him a great opportunity to find out what's going on around the state and talk about the court.

"I'm here to learn about the issues confronting the area," O'Donnell said, "so that I can be as informed as I can. When Ohio was founded in 1803, each town had a court, a school of some kind and a means by which to care for the people. Education has always been a key part of that."

"We're here today to assist Justice O'Donnell in learning about these important medical issues," said Brose, "and to provide information about how the medical school at Ohio University helps supply physicians in needed areas and to the underserved. Our college focuses on addressing those issues."

"Justice O'Donnell has indicated to me that he's very concerned about this area of the state," said Brose.

"What we wanted to emphasize to Justice O'Donnell is the problem that malpractice is creating for us. It is one of the reasons - perhaps the main reason - that we can't keep physicians in our community. We will be losing more physicians in Southeastern Ohio because of very high malpractice rates that are not subsiding."

Across the nation, many states find themselves facing a full-blown medical liability crisis.

"It's a full-blown crisis in Ohio," said George Dunigan, OU-COM's legislative liaison, who arranged O'Donnell's visit to the college. "We have a huge problem all over the state. Cuyahoga County and surrounding counties and beyond are being devastated by the amounts of premiums required for physicians to insure themselves."

The national nature of the problem, said Dunigan, can have a ripple effect from one state to another.

According to a major medical association, 42 states are either in crisis or have begun to show signs of an impending crisis.

The immediate cause of the crisis in medical liability insurance is the combined effect of ever-increasing damage awards, malpractice insurance premium increases and insurers either narrowing the guidelines that determine which physicians they are willing to insure - often excluding high-risk specialties like obstetrics and gynecology - or leaving the market altogether. Other causes to this problem include the compounding negative effects of litigation practices, insurer competition, the extended medical liability insurance cycle and adverse publicity over medical errors.

Justice Terrence O'Donnell, OOA President Paul Martin, Shannon Campbell and Christina Peters.Of key concern at OU-COM is how these challenges have framed not only their students' preparation for graduation but also access to care throughout the region. When many students graduate, they still face the burden of debt from paying for their education. This, in turn, affects their ability to afford rising insurance premiums.

With fewer and fewer physicians entering or continuing to practice in high-risk specialties, health-care hardships are created in communities where these services may no longer be offered. Rural communities continue to be the hardest hit by this crisis. An effort to stem off this crisis by changing malpractice tort law was made by state legislators when Senate Bill 281 passed last year.

But Ohio's malpractice reform law has yet to be tested in the Supreme Court, said Brose.

"We can't talk directly about that bill with Justice O'Donnell because it would be inappropriate, but it is very important for him to understand the ramifications of medical malpractice."

O'Donnell said regarding a potential test of malpractice reform law that the court has a duty to hear matters of great public interest because that is its charge. "With respect to the vast implications to the trial attorneys in Ohio, to litigants in the state of Ohio and to be able to function in our communities with physicians who can care for people who need that care - these are the kinds of matters we are required to consider," said O'Donnell.

The mission of the College of Osteopathic Medicine is to educate students to become physicians practicing osteopathic medicine in service to the region, the state and beyond. Integral to that mission, the college commits itself to generating and disseminating new knowledge and understanding through research and scholarly activities; serving the health needs of people within the Appalachian region; embracing diversity and public service, with integrity and respect for those served; and emphasizing primary care and improving the well-being of underserved populations.

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Media Contact: OU-COM Office of Communication Associate Director Michael Weiser, (740) 593-2199 or weiser@ohio.edu

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