Medical Malpractice Claims Can and Should Lead to Better Care

In 1976, in response to problems in the medical malpractice insurance marketplace in Massachusetts, the Harvard medical institutions created a captive insurance company, Controlled Risk Insurance Company (“CRICO”).  Over the years, CRICO has created a database of medical malpractice claims which it has analyzed looking for patterns.  Its database contains information about roughly 30% of all malpractice claims filed in the United States.  It mines the data it has looking for ways to stop medical errors from occurring in the first place.  It has been incredibly successful in this.  Not only have its efforts reduced payouts in suits against negligent doctors, it has reduced claims overall and improved patient care.  Laudably, it makes its findings available to health care practitioners across the country.

While some doctors see malpractice suits as a threat to be fought to the bitter end, the program at CRICO and similar programs see them as an opportunity to study what went wrong and determine how to prevent similar mistakes from being made in the future.  With regard to breast cancer claims, a CRICO analysis showed that physicians had no uniform way of assessing and monitoring breast abnormalities.  CRICO developed an algorithm for addressing such abnormalities and put it into use at the Harvard hospitals.  Doctors who learned the algorithm were given discounts on their malpractice premiums.  According to reports, breast cancer litigation in the Boston area has fallen to record low levels.

When its data showed that obstetricians were losing cases because of poor teamwork during the labor and delivery process, CRICO developed a team training course and gave discounts to all obstetricians who took the course.  Soon, claims dropped by 50%.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists undertook a similar computer analysis in the 1980’s when claims were running high against its members.  It discovered that many of the claims arose out of the fact that the breathing tube was being inserted improperly and that, as a result, patients were not getting the oxygen they needed.  By directing that all patients have an oxygen monitor applied to make sure they were properly receiving oxygen, claims against anesthesiologists were decreased dramatically.

According to many studies, only 2% of people injured by medical negligence ever make a claim.  Instead of reviling those who do make claims, more institutions and physicians should use the opportunity of a claim to learn and to improve patient care.  If health care providers never admit, even to themselves, that a mistake was made, they are doomed to repeat their mistakes over and over.  Programs like those at CRICO and the American Association of Anesthesiologists make things better for patients as well as for health care providers.



Posted in Breast Cancer, disclosure of medical mistakes, Doctors, Hospital Negligence, Hospitals, Lawsuits, medical errors, Medical Malpractice, medical malpractice claims, medical malpractice lawsuits, medical mistakes, Secrecy |