File it under news that no one is talking about but that everyone should be: a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reveals that a new obstetric safety program implemented in several New York hospitals has reduced medical malpractice payouts in those hospitals by 99 percent!
That number is so large that it almost takes a minute for it to sink in. A 99 percent reduction in medical malpractice payouts. One more percentage point and there would have been a one hundred percent reduction in medical malpractice payouts, meaning that medical malpractice would have cost insurers absolutely nothing! Zero dollars and zero cents. And all of this was accomplished in the span of three years with the implementation of this new safety program.
Of course medical malpractice payouts are not really a good surrogate for patient safety; payouts might go down because the hospitals got better defense lawyers. Or because injured patients can’t find plaintiffs’ lawyers willing to take their cases.
But the study also suggests that patient safety improved just as much as the hospitals’ bottom lines. So-called “sentinel events” — avoidable deaths and serious injuries — zeroed out during the course of the study.
What were the magical elements in this obstetrics safety program that proved so shockingly effective at preventing birth injuries? Was it a bunch of new, costly high-tech gizmos?
Although the hospitals that participated in the study abandoned their whiteboards in favor of a new system of electronic communications, a lot of the program’s features were decidedly low-tech and addressed a lot of the basic reasons why doctors make mistakes.
For instance, the participating hospitals each added three more physician assistants to their staffs and a “laborist” (a new term for an OB-GYN who works full-time for a hospital, much like a “hospitalist” in internal medicine). These additional staff members helped reduce physician fatigue, a major cause of medical malpractice that we’ve blogged about a great deal, most recently here.
Another low-tech safety innovation was the hiring of a full-time patient safety nurse who was responsible for educating staff on patient safety and conducting emergency drills.
These additional staff members and the new computers cost money. Do you think that if damages for pain-and-suffering in a birth injury case, such as a cerebral palsy case, were capped at $250,000 that hospitals would bother investing in these new safety measures? Where would their incentive be?
Medical malpractice can be easily reduced. That we might see medical malpractice in one sector almost completely eliminated over the course of a few years is, however, something of great surprise and a great cause for hope.
You can read more about the study here: “Obstetricians take big steps to avoid malpractice” (Crain’s New York Business.com).
This blog in maintained by the Boston medical malpractice lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. It does not offer legal advice, nor should you construe it as offering legal advice on a medical malpractice claim that you should have.