Medical malpractice litigation can lead to better patient care and increased patient safety

A recent study shows that medical malpractice lawsuits actually improve patient safety.  A study was conducted by Joanna C. Schwartz, assistant professor of law at UCLA.  Schwartz surveyed over 400 people responsible for hospital risk management, claims management, and quality improvement in health care centers throughout the country.

The study showed  that malpractice lawsuits are an excellent source of information about how and why medical errors occur.  Over 95% of the hospitals in the study used information from lawsuits to improve patient safety.  The intensive examination of medical records undertaken by attorneys and used in lawsuits revealed previously  unknown incidents of medical errors – especially diagnostic and treatment mistakes with delayed manifestations that other reporting systems failed to collect.  Lawsuits showed  errors that should have been reported but were not.  Medical personnel consistently underreport errors (the threat of litigation is not responsible for this), and lawsuits helped to fill these gaps.

Furthermore, litigation discovery revealed useful details about quality and safety concerns.  Examination of claim trends uncovered problematic procedures and departments, as well as closed litigation records that could be used as teaching tools.

Indeed, Schwartz’s study suggested that hospitals can and have found methods of increasing medical transparency and openness without the dramatic intervention tort reformers warn of.  Because lawsuits identified incidents and details of medical mistakes, limitations on lawsuits actually hindered patient safety measures.

The study showed that the millions of dollars the Affordable Care Act poured into patient safety for research centers and other programs should not be used for reforms and initiatives that rely on conventional wisdom about the detrimental effects of medical malpractice litigation.  In sum, malpractice lawsuits did not have the harmful effects on patient care that some had claimed; instead,  lawsuits actually improved patient safety.

To read Schwartz’s article in the New York Times, click the link below.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/opinion/how-health-care-is-learning-from-lawsuits.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=2&

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