It is often assumed that the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits causes health providers to be more secretive about medical errors, which could prevent advances in patient safety. However, a new survey by Joanna C. Schwartz in cooperation with the American Society of Health Care Risk Managers, shows that hospitals are actually moving toward more transparency.
In the survey of more than 400 people involved with risk management at hospitals, Schwartz found that more than 80 percent of hospitals employ a policy of offering patients an apology for medical errors, in part because they have found that disclosing errors and offering early settlements cuts down on litigation costs.
The study also showed that medical malpractice lawsuits have proven to be a valuable source of information for hospitals. More than 95 percent of the hospitals in the survey incorporate information from lawsuits into their efforts to improve patient safety. According to Schwartz, the risk management professionals in her survey overwhelmingly report that they have used information from lawsuits to learn about and reduce medical errors.
Despite existing requirements to report medical errors, lawsuits can uncover errors with delayed effects, such as diagnostic errors that would not otherwise come to light, as well as errors that should have been reported but were not.