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Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Improve Patient Safety, Part 1

A recent editorial in the New York Times spotlights the benefits to patients and consumers that result from medical malpractice litigation. Advocates of so-called tort reform have been mounting a strong campaign that has been successful in many states.

The results have included caps on malpractice settlements that do not take into account individual circumstances, increasingly restrictive time limits and other obstacles that prevent injured patients from obtaining justice. Advocates of tort reform insist that the risk of a lawsuit hurts patient safety. Recent evidence tells a different story.

It turns out that the risk of lawsuits, when combined with laws requiring disclosure to patients, has actually increased transparency and promoted patient safety. In contrast to the secretive and adversarial approach that characterized the medical community's response to reports of medical errors, hospitals today have policies of apologizing to patients and have processes in place to help them learn from mistakes.

Why the change? One reason is very practical. Hospitals have found that being open, admitting error and offering early settlements actually decreases the cost of litigation.

Check back next week for more on this topic.

Source: New York Times, "Learning From Litigation," by Johanna C. Schwartz, May 16, 2013. 

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