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Litigation may improve patient safety


Much of the debate over medical malpractice law suits stems over the perceived increased costs such litigation creates. Businesses in the medical field have collectively spent billions of dollars lobbying for tort reform to limit the number and scope these suits as well as attempting to mitigate awards to plaintiffs.


Lost in this economic debate is the issue of patient safety. While widely seen as a hindrance to transparency, a recent article published in The New York Times reveals evidence that medical malpractice suits may actually aid in transparency, thereby improving patient safety. Joanna Schwartz, assistant professor of law at UCLA, conducted a survey of over 400 health care professionals involved in risk management. She found that, “[M]alpractice suits are playing an unexpected role in patient safety efforts, as a source of valuable information about medical error. Over 95 percent of the hospitals […] said that lawsuits can reveal previously unknown incidents of medical errors.”

Hospitals review information revealed during litigation discovery and mine the data to ascertain which procedures or departments may be problematic. While litigation data may not always accurately represent a specific area of concern, hospitals take that into consideration while conducting reviews.

Schwartz opined, “Medical-malpractice lawsuits do not have the harmful effects on patient safety that they are imagined to have – and, in fact, they can do some good.”