Stronger Malpractice Laws May Not Prevent Surgical Complications

January 17, 2017

More aggressive malpractice climates don’t necessarily protect patients from surgical complications, a new study suggests

Supporters of medical malpractice laws that make it easier for patients to sue doctors say these protections are necessary to improve care. But in the current study, the risk of litigation didn’t translate into better outcomes, said study leader Dr. Karl Bilimoria, director of the Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“It doesn’t really work – malpractice environment doesn’t influence doctors to provide better care,” Bilimoria said by email. “Rather, it may lead to defensive medicine practices where more tests and treatments are ordered unnecessarily just to try to minimize malpractice risk.”

Bilimoria and colleagues examined state-specific data on medical malpractice insurance premiums, average award size and the number of claims for every 100 physicians in each state as of 2010.

They also examined 2010 data on the odds of death, complications or repeat operations within 30 days surgery for patients insured by fee-for-service Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly and disabled.

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