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Malpractice litigation helps reduce medical error

The New York Times recently ran a fascinating op ed by Joanna Schwartz, a professor at UCLA. The subject was a study that Professor Schwartz did on the value of medical malpractice litigation in reducing medical errors. Professor Schwartz’s conclusion was that medical malpractice claims and lawsuits actually don’t result in doctors and other health professionals hiding problems and, in fact, such suits actually encourage improved practices.

In order to reach her conclusions, Professor Schwartz surveyed more than 400 people who are responsible for hospital risk management, claims management and quality improvement in hospitals in the U.S. She found that, although hospitals used to handle medical errors and lawsuits by taking an adversarial and secret approach, hospitals have begun changing that approach. Now, she reports, hospitals are more open with patients. In fact, she found that over 80 percent of hospitals that she surveyed now actually have a policy of apologizing to patients who are victims of errors. Most importantly, she found that most hospitals are willing to discuss and learn from errors with staff. This is a dramatic shift form the old days when health care providers kept from patients the fact of medical injury. A copy of the op ed piece can be found here.

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