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Malpractice lawsuits a tool for improvement

Residents of Montana may be interested in a recent article that suggests that medical malpractice lawsuits might be used as a tool to make the health care system more effective. According to data gathered by the National Institute of Medicine, approximately 300,000 people suffer injury and 98,000 people die due to avoidable errors in hospitals across the U.S.

There are certain institutions, such as the Joint Commission, that attempt to promote safety and quality, but only 33 percent of hospitals accredited by the commission are designated as top performers, and the article suggests that many hospitals and some physician groups tend to be resistant to changes that might reduce patient injuries and fatalities. For example, a campaign launched in 2004 estimated that 122,300 lives were saved after 2300 hospitals implemented at least one of six of changes. When an attempt to expand that project was made in 2006, only 2000 hospitals agreed to participate in the program.

However, the article suggests that the medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits have a tendency to bring public attention to some of the inefficiencies that are present in the health care system. For example, in 1982, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reduced the mortality rate from anesthesia from 1 out of 6,000 to 1 out of 200,000. The group instituted a number of changes after conducting an internal investigation in response to several of large malpractice verdicts.

In addition to their ability to push health care providers to provide better care, medical malpractice lawsuits might also provide the victims of hospital negligence with compensation for damages. A successful lawsuit filed with the help of an attorney may result in court-awarded funds that cover a victim's medical costs.

Source: Forbes, "Malpractice Lawsuits Aren't Just About Money", Steve Cohen, June 18, 2014

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