Fall in Malpractice Awards, Rise in Malpractice?
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 07:45 AM

In spite of a small jump last year, medical malpractice payments seem to be trending downward, although medical errors remain a major problem, according to a report from the consumer group Public Citizen. The American Medical Association, a longtime critic of the consumer group and its methods, questioned the validity of the report.

Public Citizen said it is troubled by the overall decline in the volume and value of such claims over the last 15 years, because it found no sign that the actual incidence of medical errors is falling. If anything, the group said, "the actual crisis over avoidable medical errors is worse than we ever knew."

Public Citizen attributed the drop in payments to medical practitioners who have been "feverishly advocating" for caps on damages since the early 2000s. "Despite rhetoric about 'frivolous lawsuits,' the vast majority of medical malpractice payments compensate for injuries that no one would deem frivolous," the report noted.

Three-fifths of all payments in 2013 were associated with negligence that led to "significant permanent injury, major permanent injury, quadriplegia, brain damage, the need for lifelong care, or death."

The number of malpractice payments grew from 9,370 in 2012 to 9,677 in 2013, according to the group's analysis of data from the federal government's National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). These figures look paltry compared with the 16,565 payments reported in 2001.

The consumer group contrasted these waning payments with large numbers of "avoidable adverse events" in hospitals, drawing on a variety of data sources.  These included the following:

  • A 2010 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reportcontaining figures that, "if extrapolated nationally," add up to about 80,000 Medicare patients dying annually following preventable adverse events
  • A study of North Carolina hospitals -- also from 2010 -- which found that about 20% of patients suffered adverse events, 60% of which were avoidable
  • A 2011 Health Affairs study that documented errors or adverse events in roughly one-third of hospital admissions
  • A 2013 report from the Journal of Patient Safety which, using all three of the previous sources, estimated the number of patients dying prematurely from a preventable nosocomial harm to be more than 400,000 each year

Source:  http://www.medpagetoday.com/PracticeManagement/Medicolegal/48233