In an op-ed opinion by a law professor appearing on May 16, 2013 in The New York Times, the law professor discussed her survey of more than 400 people who are responsible for hospital risk management, claims management, and quality improvement in health care centers throughout the United States. The law professor wrote, “My study also shows that malpractice suits are playing an unexpected role in patient safety efforts, as a source of valuable information about medical error. Over 95 percent of the hospitals in my study integrate information from lawsuits into patient safety efforts. And risk managers and patient-safety personnel overwhelmingly report that lawsuit data have proved useful in efforts to identify and address error.”
The author suggests that medical malpractice litigation can help uncover previously uninvestigated medical errors that formal reporting requirements imposed on hospitals may miss. This may be particularly true where the injuries suffered as a result of diagnostic or treatment errors may take a long time to manifest (i.e., after the hospital reported the incident to comply with the requirements established by federal and state agencies). Furthermore, medical malpractice litigation may help bring to light medical mistakes that should have been reported but were not, which may help to identify trends or problems within hospital units that may otherwise go unnoticed and cause unnecessary harms to other patients.
Another benefit of medical malpractice litigation is that the discovery process undertaken during litigation may help to more thoroughly investigate and determine the circumstances and details of medical malpractice that can then be incorporated into the hospital’s risk management efforts to reduce the incidents of medical malpractice. Hospitals may learn more about what went wrong and how to avoid similar circumstances in the future by analyzing and incorporating into their policies and procedures the information and opinions expressed by medical malpractice litigants’ experts that they would not otherwise have had available to them that may result in greater patient safety.
In addressing the unintended effects of medical malpractice tort reform efforts that are increasingly being imposed in many U.S. states, the op-ed author noted that tort reforms such as enacting damages caps (i.e., limits on the amount of damages that can be recovered by those injured by medical malpractice) and requiring the non-judicial determination of medical malpractice claims (such as administrative entities adjudicating medical malpractice claims outside of court) “may actually impede patient safety efforts” because the tort reform limitations placed on medical malpractice cases reduce the value imparted to hospitals by medical malpractice litigation that helps identify otherwise unreported medical mistakes and the details of the medical errors that can lead to beneficial patient safety initiatives.
The law professor concluded her op-ed opinion by stating, “Medical-malpractice lawsuits do not have the harmful effects on patient safety that they are imagined to have — and, in fact, they can do some good.”
Isn’t it time that we re-focus on the victims of medical malpractice and on patient safety that affect all of us instead of protecting the financial interests of negligent physicians, dangerous hospitals, and other negligent health care providers who are the sole beneficiaries of medical malpractice tort reforms?
If you or a family member may have been injured or suffered other serious harms as a result of a medical mistake, a medical error, or an incompetent physician or other health care provider, you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may be willing to investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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