Want Fewer Medical Malpractice Claims? Then Deliver Better Care

The verdict is in. Again. Yet another study proves that medical malpractice claims diminish not by limiting consumers’ rights to file them, but by delivering better medical care.

PopTort, an initiative of the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School, commented earlier this month on a new study published in the American Journal of Medical Quality that showed how one state reduced malpractice claims by improving the quality of its hospital care.

“Turns out you can reduce claims and lawsuits not only by stripping patients of their legal rights after they’ve already been hurt (as in Texas),” PopTort observed. “You can accomplish the same thing by stopping the injuries and deaths in the first place, which they found examining a hospital system in Louisiana.”

The recent research study depicted how the drop in malpractice claims in that state corresponded with an increase in hospitals’ quality scores based on 22 factors Medicare uses to measure hospital performance.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Khaled J. Saleh, who is chief of Division of Orthopedic Surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, said the findings suggest that hospitals can reduce liability claims with or without tort reform.

That term describes efforts to limit plaintiff judgments on medical malpractice and other restrictions that effectively stack the deck against people who have been harmed through medical misadventure.

“Clearly,” Saleh told HealthLeaders Media.com, “the evidence shows that if you do high-quality care, it is well received by patients and decreases your medicolegal costs.”

Then there’s Texas. Its “success” at tort reform, PopTort reminded, has made its laws “so Draconian that legitimate claims can no longer be brought.” The extent of its decline in civil justice is explored in a new book, “Tort Reform: Plaintiffs’ Lawyers, and Access to Justice,” by Stephen Daniels of the American Bar Foundation and Joanne Martin at the American Bar Endowment.

By reducing lawyers’ ability to use contingency fees as compensation, as tort reform has done in Texas, attorneys lose their economic incentive to pursue even the most righteous claims. Pointing to more than 20 years of research, extensive surveys and interviews, Daniels and Martin illustrated the sorry effect of the tort reform movement in Texas on the ability of plaintiffs to obtain judgments.

PopTort referred to a Rand study of a few years ago that reinforced the idea that the best way to reduce medical malpractice claims is to clean up your medical act, not deprive harmed patients of their rights. That study focused on California, where there was a highly significant correlation between the frequency of adverse medical events and malpractice claims. According to the study, “On average, a county that shows a decrease of 10 adverse events in a given year would also see a decrease of 3.7 malpractice claims.”

Its conclusion? “[N]ew safety interventions potentially can have positive effects on the volume of malpractice litigation – a desirable result to seek out, even beyond the immediate impact of medical injuries avoided.”

Then there was the paper three physicians published in 2011 about a comprehensive obstetric patient safety program at Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. “[I]mplementing a comprehensive obstetric patient safety program,” they wrote, “not only decreases severe adverse outcomes but can also have an immediate impact on compensation payments.”

Specifically:

  • 2009 compensation payments were almost 100% less than the average 2003-2006 payments ($27,591,610 to $250,000)
  • average yearly compensation payment from 2007 to 2009 was $2,550,136 versus an average of $27,591,610 in 2003 to 2006 (yearly saving of $25,041,475)

“How is it,” PopTort wondered, “that some respected opinion leaders don’t seem to care about addressing the problem of deaths, injuries, claims and lawsuits with proven patient safety solutions, but instead would rather focus on reducing accountability and the legal rights of sick and injured patients after they’ve been hurt? And by the way, then forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab for their care and letting the med mal insurance industry make out like bandits.

“It’s obvious, but it bears repeating: The best way to reduce malpractice litigation is not to take away the rights of injured patients, but to reduce the amount of malpractice.”

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