Full Disclosure of Medical Errors Lowers Liability Costs, Study Finds

September 9, 2010

Full disclosure of medical errors including compensation for them can lower defense and overall liability costs for medical providers, according to a new study.

While many medcial providers today acknowledge that patients should be informed of medical errors, there is concern that a fear of increased litigation and costs may discourage proactive disclosure. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston and the University of Michigan analyzed a program of full disclosure and compensation for medical errors and found a decrease in new claims for compensation (including lawsuits), time to claim resolution, and lower liability costs.

The findings were published in August 17th issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“The need for full disclosure of harmful medical errors is driven by both ethics and patient safety concerns,” said lead study author, Allen Kachalia, MD, JD, medical director of Quality and Safety at BWH. “However, because of fears that disclosing every medical error may lead to more malpractice claims and costs, disclosure may not happen as often and consistently as we would hope.”

In 2001, the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) launched a comprehensive claims management program that centered on full disclosure with offers of compensation for medical errors. Under this model, UMHS proactively looked for medical errors, fully disclosed found errors to patients, and offered compensation when at fault.

Researchers conducted a retrospective before-and-after analysis to determine how the UMHS model affected claims and costs. Reviewinig claims from 1995 to 2007, researchers found a decrease in new legal claims (including the number of lawsuits per month), time to claim resolution, and total liability costs after implementation of the disclosure with offer program.

“The decrease in claims and costs may be attributed to a number or combination of factors,” says Dr. Kachalia. “We found a 61 percent decrease in spending at the UMHS on legal defense costs, and this supports the possibility that patients may be less likely to file lawsuits when given prompt transparency and an offer of compensation.”

Researchers said they hope that this study will alleviate the fears associated with disclosure and will further encourage efforts to disclose all harmful medical errors.

The study was funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

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