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One result of the Institute of Medicine report on medical errors could be a heightened awareness of the ability to sue for adverse outcomes, although public awareness might be so high already that it won’t change much.
Much of the effect from the report cannot be determined now, but a change in public perception could come much sooner than any other effects, says Fay Rozovsky, JD, MPH, DFASHRM, a risk management consultant in Richmond, VA, and president of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management in Chicago.
The IOM report received so much publicity in the general media that patients may be more assertive about their rights and have a higher awareness of medical errors. That could lead to a higher likelihood that patients will sue after an adverse outcome, she says.
"This report is coming at a time when the public already has a lot of concerns about health care, and it reinforces and exacerbates those concerns," Rozovsky says. "That means health care providers should anticipate more questioning — more assertiveness from the patient and the family. They might be more likely to ask why today’s pill is green when yesterday’s was pink, and that’s a good thing. You just have to hope they’re not also more attuned to the liability aspect if they learn of a medical error."
Leilani Kicklighter, RN, ARM, MBA, DASHRM, assistant administrator for safety and risk management with the North Broward (FL) Hospital District and a past president of ASHRM, agrees to some extent, but she says the effect on the litigation risk may be less pronounced in some areas of the country. The IOM report is not the first to put the spotlight on medical errors, she says, so patients already have been alerted.
"The media have more involvement in medical issues in some parts of the country, like South Florida," she says. "We get a lot of articles about medical errors and other problems already. We have so much in the media already, and that doesn’t seem to have influenced an increase in litigation. If people think they have a basis for suing, they will pursue that regardless of what they hear in the media."