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Threat of malpractice suits does not correlate with better care

Jan 19, 2017 | Surgical Errors

People in New York who have suffered a bad medical outcome might want tougher malpractice laws. However, improving medical care appears to be outside the purview of litigation. A study that compared the risks of malpractice claims and surgical outcomes found almost no influence between legal standards and better patient care.

Researchers looked at data across multiple states regarding insurance premiums, average settlements and the number of claims. They examined this information alongside data from approximately 890,000 Medicare patients at over 3,000 hospitals. A murky picture emerged that did not link laws that enhanced a patient’s ability to sue to better medical outcomes.

In states with strong malpractice laws that allowed for large awards to victims, no reduction in post-surgical complications was evident. For example, patients in states that imposed greater litigation risks on physicians faced a 22 percent higher chance of developing sepsis after a surgery. Other complications included a 9 percent greater likelihood of pneumonia, 15 percent increased chance of acute kidney failure and 18 percent greater risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

Although showing a relationship between certain laws and medical outcomes has proven difficult, medical experts commenting on the study agreed that the threat of legal liability could cause physicians to order more tests and treatment. These procedures could be unnecessary and only done to create a defense to possible malpractice claims.

Because the legal standards for showing medical negligence tend to be strict, a person injured by a surgical mistake might want the support of an attorney. Problems like organ perforation, wrong-site surgery or preoperative care errors might be evident within medical records. By consulting an outside medical expert, an attorney might build a case that demonstrates substandard care and exposes a physician to liability. The lawyer could file court paperwork and pursue compensation for the victim.