June 17, 2013

New Research: Malpractice Lawsuits Critical for Patient Safety

by Levin & Perconti

Accountability breeds improvement. That basic mantra has long-been shown true in many different kinds of settings. Focusing on quality and care in any job depends on the consequences of providing inadequate services. It does not take much deep thinking to realize that quality may be sacrificed if mistakes do not have repercussions.

Of course, the quality of medical care is one of the textbook examples of this idea. When doctors, nurses, and others have little to lose for providing substandard care, then the incentives to improve patient safety is minimal. Conversely, when patients have fair access to the judicial system to file medical malpractice lawsuit when harmed by negligence, then all those involved in the caregiving industry have obvious incentives to take steps to minimize errors.

That principle was verified yet again in recent research soon to be published in the NYU Law Review.

Med Mal Lawsuits - More than Money
As discussed in a recent HRMR Newsletter, the study was conducted by legal academics, and is to be published in an article entitled, ‘A Dose of Reality for Medical Malpractice Reform.”

The author explains that the research sought to examine the idea pushed by some pursuing tort reform legislation. The claim: med mal lawsuits were detrimental to patient safety efforts because the lawsuit encouraged less openness and honesty about medical errors.

To address the question, the researcher conducted more than two dozen interview with those involved in the process, like risk managers, and patient safety officers at hospitals. In addition, over 400 of the same individuals participated in an email survey, with ten more follow up interviews with survey respondents.

What were the findings?

The article summary notes that trends are clearly headed in the direction of more openness and honesty regarding patient safety information. Contrary to the fears of tort reformers, the researcher found that medical professionals are less and less likely to avoid honest discussions because of malpractice fears.

Interestingly, the author found that the trend may be connected to state laws. But those laws had nothing to do with limiting patient’s access to the judicial system (tort reform laws). Instead, new laws requiring hospitals to expand mandatory reporting of errors have contributed to the shift.

In fact, med mal lawsuits themselves are becoming critical data points for understanding medical errors. The professor explained, “Not only did the hospitals in my study report integrating information from lawsuits into their patient safety efforts, they also reported that lawsuits revealed new and useful information about incidents of medical error,”

The bottom line: Medical malpractice lawsuits play a critical role in improving patient safety. Far from being an unfair burden, this litigation is vital to tracking errors and ensuring changes are made to improve the system. After all, if medical facilities wish to minimize their liability there is one straightforward way to do so: minimize their harmful errors.

For help understanding your legal options in Illinois following a medical error or preventable adverse outcome, please contact the attorneys at our firm today.

See Other Blog Posts:

Hospital Rules on “Loss of Chance” Medical Case

The Role of Experts in Medical Malpractice Cases