Safer care results in fewer malpractice claims, study finds

The latest data from Pennsylvania county courts show that the number of medical malpractice claims and the size of jury awards have declined markedly in the last decade. Those trends have been attributed to changes made in the rules governing such lawsuits by the state Supreme Court and legislation enacted by the state legislature in 2002 to curb such litigation.

A recent study, however, suggests another way to prevent malpractice suits: Reduce the number medical errors and other preventable adverse events.

In California, counties in which hospitals and doctor lowered the number of errors also had fewer malpractice suits filed, according to new research from the Rand Corporation. The nonprofit research organization examined preventable injuries to patients in California from 2001 through 2005 and medical malpractice claims from that time frame. The Rand researchers found that a reduction in adverse events such as infections after surgery was linked to fewer malpractice claims.

The researchers examined adverse events and malpractice claims county by county and found that a decrease of 10 medical events resulted in 3.7 fewer malpractice claims. And the reverse was also true, the more adverse events in a county corresponded with more lawsuits.

“These findings suggest that putting a greater focus on improving safety performance in health care settings could benefit medical providers as well as patients,” said Michael Greenberg, a behavioral scientist and the study’s lead author.