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Better patient safety means fewer claims
It may seem intuitive, and risk managers certainly hoped it was true, but a new study showing a direct correlation between improved patient safety and a reduction in malpractice claims is still welcome news.
The RAND corporation, a nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, CA, recently studied patient safety in California hospitals from 2001 to 2005 and found that a decrease in preventable patient injuries was associated with a corresponding drop in malpractice claims against physicians.
Researchers studied both medical malpractice claims and adverse events such as post-surgical infections across California counties and found that changes in the frequency of adverse events were strongly correlated with corresponding changes in the volume of medical malpractice claims, says Michael Greenberg, Ph.D., research director at the RAND Center for Corporate Ethics and Governance and the study's lead author.
"These findings suggest that putting a greater focus on improving safety performance in health care settings could benefit medical providers as well as patients," Greenberg says.
The RAND study is the first to demonstrate a link between improving performance on 20 well-established indicators of medical safety outcomes and lower medical malpractice claims.
Greenberg notes that California is a particularly important state for examining the safety-malpractice relationship because of its size and diversity. The state also adopted statutory reforms 35 years ago to discourage malpractice lawsuits, so any recently observed changes in the volume of malpractice litigation in California are unlikely to be attributable to the impact of tort reform.
Greenberg and his colleagues 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.
More important, the study found a significant connection between the annual frequency of adverse events in each county, and the number of malpractice claims made.
For more information on patient safety and malpractice claims, contact:
Michael Greenberg, Ph.D., Research Director, RAND Center for Corporate Ethics, Pittsburgh, PA. Telephone: (412) 683-2300, ext. 4648. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.