Incorrect Diagnosis Main Cause of Catastrophic Medical Malpractice Payouts

September 29, 2014

Huge malpractice awards can be prevented by targeted interventions by healthcare provider organizations to reduce patient safety risks, such as reducing diagnosis errors, says a study published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, a peer-reviewed publication of the National Association for Healthcare Quality.

Despite the impact and influence of large malpractice payouts on healthcare costs, little is known about their specific characteristics and overall cost burden. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Baltimore, reviewed all U.S. paid malpractice claims from 2004 to 2010 to identify key risk factors for catastrophic payouts, or those more than $1 million. They represent 8 percent of all paid malpractice claims. Results showed that the greatest percentage of catastrophic payouts occur from errors in diagnosis. The authors noted that errors in diagnosis have twice the odds for a catastrophic payout and that health systems should focus more on ensuring diagnostic accuracy.

“Factors associated with catastrophic malpractice payouts present opportunities for targeted risk management and quality improvement efforts,” said co-author Martin A. Makary, a surgeon and professor at Johns Hopkins.

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