New Research Shows Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Promote Patient Safety

The theory behind tort lawsuits for personal injury is that they provide compensation for the injured, and also deterrence and teaching for injury prevention to the defendant doctors and hospitals.

Critics of this theory have argued that fear of litigation causes doctors to order too many tests, and discourages the sharing of information. Now, new research adds weight to the argument that medical malpractice lawsuits help to prevent medical and hospital based injuries.

The research is being published in a forthcoming article in the NYU Law Review. Author Joanna C. Schwartz has published an article on the op-ed page of the New York Times for May 16, 2013, describing her conclusions.

Interviews with more than 400 hospital risk managers in the United States showed that many hospitals have undergone a transition from an adversarial and secretive attitude to lawsuits and avoidable errors, to an attitude of openness and disclosure. One reason is that disclosure of error and early settlement reduces the expense and frequency of lawsuits.

And hospitals have discovered that increasing openness and transparency, and accepting the flaws uncovered by lawsuits as a learning opportunity, is a source of information for increasing patient safety.

In Canada, disclosure requirements have been adopted by the organized medical profession and by many hospital corporations in recent years, and there is reason to believe that medical and hospital malpractice lawsuits are having the same beneficial effect for patient safety as they do in the U.S.