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How do you decrease instances of malpractice suits? Lower the instances of medical errors.

Home > "Defensive" Medicine?, Patient Safety

Posted on Jun. 22 Bookmark and Share


The RAND Institute for Civil Justice released a study stating the most obvious thing in the world: less instances of malpracitice lead to less malpracitce litigation. In layman’s terms, the best way to prevent malpractice suits, is to lower the amount of mistakes that are being made. But how do we do that?

During the ongoing debate over health care restructuring and reform, the cost of providing insurance has been a major concern for policy makers, providers and insurance companies themselves. All cite the numerous instances of malpractice suits and high cost of malpractice insurance. The RAND study is the first to demonstrate a link between improving performance and lowering medical malpractice claims and therefore lowering the cost of malpractice insurance.

"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, the study's lead author and a behavioral scientist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Researchers analyzed information for approximately 365,000 adverse safety events, such as post-surgical problems and hospital-acquired infections, and for approximately 27,000 malpractice claims, all of which occurred during 2001-2005. The researchers found considerable variation among California's counties, in both the frequency of adverse events and of malpractice claims.
With recent legislation focusing on providing access to health insurance for all Americans, the cost of malpractice and malpractice insurance is a big concern. But, contrary to popular belief, tort reform does not lower malpractice insurance costs. The best way to lower the cost is to decrease the amount of errors being made.
Researchers say the link between safety performance and malpractice litigation is an important offshoot of national patient safety efforts, which for the past decade have tried to reduce medical errors and to avert preventable injuries.

...efforts to identify the root causes of these failures are an important tool for protecting patients and for reducing injury rates...

The study found a connection between the frequency of adverse events in each county, and the number of malpractice claims made. For example, a county that experienced 10 fewer safety events in a given year would also expect to see a reduction of 3.7 malpractice claims during the same year, said study co-author Amelia Haviland, a RAND statistician.

"The patient safety movement suggests that patient injuries sometimes occur as a result of the failure of complex systems rather than negligence, and that efforts to identify the root causes of these failures are an important tool for protecting patients and for reducing injury rates," Greenberg said.

Evidence that safety performance has a direct tie to malpractice claims suggests that policy interventions designed to boost safety also might have the effect of improving the malpractice litigation climate. A recently announced federal initiative on medical liability reform and patient safety is aimed at investigating and expanding such policy interventions.

The study, “Is Better Patient Safety Associated with Less Malpractice Activity? Evidence from California," can be found at Other authors of the study are J. Scott Ashwood and Regan Main.  The study was produced under the auspices of the RAND Institute for Civil Justice and funded by pooled contributions from insurance companies, individuals and nonprofit groups with interests in patient safety and medical malpractice policy. (Read more at

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