Medical Malpractice Claims Data Being Used to Curb Medical Mistakes

Can <"">medical malpractice lawsuits actually be helpful to doctors? A new article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that they can. It seems that by analyzing the breakdowns in care that led to missed, delayed or incorrect diagnoses involved in medical malpractice cases, insurers and health-care providers are developing programs to avert mistakes.

An official with Crico/RMF, a malpractice insurer that covers hospitals affiliated with Harvard University, told the Journal that while malpractice claims represent only a fraction of all medical cases, “they are reflective of deeply rooted problems that are much more widespread in health care.” The same official said cases linked to diagnostic errors appear to be on the rise as primary care doctors with heavy case loads take shortcuts or fail to act on their patient’s symptoms.

According to The Wall Street Journal, diagnostic errors are the cause of most – 40 percent -medical malpractice lawsuits, and by some estimates, such mistakes kill 40,000 to 80,000 hospitalized patients Diagnostic mistakes most often involve cancer, with breast cancer the most commonly missed or delayed diagnosis, the Journal said.

According to the Journal, Oakland, Calif.-based managed-care giant Kaiser Permanente is among the insurers that uses malpractice-claims data for educational purposes. It relies on close tracking and follow-up of patients with abnormal test results to avoid missed diagnoses. For example, over the past 15 years it has identified 420,000 abnormal biopsies and 320,000 abnormal mammograms. The program has found cancer in 450 patients that otherwise might have been missed.

Crico/RMF is offering continuing medical-education credits to doctors who study its analysis of closed malpractice cases. The insurer is also co-sponsoring a program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston that works with 16 primary-care practices in Massachusetts. It uses lessons from malpractice claims to help the practitioners avoid diagnostic errors.

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