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Study: Medical malpractice claims help to promote patient safety

As a recent article from The New York Times pointed out, it has long been believed that medical malpractice lawsuits work against the patient safety movement’s call for more transparency in the medical field. However, new research suggests the opposite.

The author of the Times article wrote that he recently surveyed more than 400 employees in risk management, claims management, and quality improvement at healthcare facilities throughout the country, and interviewed dozens more. What he found was that hospitals are beginning to change their approaches to lawsuits and medical errors.

In the past, secrecy was key. If a mistake was made, doctors were encouraged never to apologize to patients or admit that an error had occurred. But in recent years, this protocol has changed in many hospitals. The author of the article said that 80 percent of hospitals taking part in the study had a policy of apologizing to patients after errors occurred.

The study also revealed that many hospitals are also more inclined to encourage staff members to talk about and learn from errors.

Part of the reason for the changes, the author wrote, is that there are now laws that require disclosure of errors to patients. Additionally, there have been amendments to confidentiality policies that allow hospital staff members to discuss specific cases involving errors, which also encourages transparency.

Finally, the author wrote that more than 95 percent of the hospitals involved in the study were using facts gathered from medical malpractice lawsuits to improve patient safety efforts. The study participants said that the lawsuits provided valuable information that reporting systems were not able to detect, including delayed detrimental outcomes for patients.

Ultimately, the author concluded that medical malpractice lawsuits do not have the detrimental effect on patient safety efforts that were once believed to be true. In fact, medical malpractice claims actually help hospitals to better document and understand the errors that occur.

Source: The New York Times, “Learning From Litigation,” Joanna C. Schwartz, May 16, 2013