By the Numbers: An Upfront Approach to Malpractice Claims

By Andy Smith | AAPL
February 13, 2019

A Tennessee health system begins a communication and resolution program and measures improvements in care and safety, physician wellness and the financial bottom line.

Here’s an idea: Reduce the potential for malpractice claims — and the corresponding costs — by responding to medical errors with sincere apologies, honesty, upfront offers of compensation and promises of corrective system changes to patients and families.

Erlanger Health System of Chattanooga, Tennessee, did that beginning in 2009, when it implemented a communication and resolution program (CRP) that is improving physician wellness, patient care and safety, and financial savings, as supported by data in its 2004-15 study, showing:

66 percent − Reduction in the average number of annual legal claims

51 percent − Reduction in the average annual defense costs (about $416,550 per 1,000 admissions)

53 percent − Reduction of time required to close cases (from 17 months to eight)

43 percent − Medical-error cases resolved by apology alone

99 percent − Of cases that paid nothing when no medical error was found, an improvement from 73 percent based on a 2015 report (Studdert) in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Note: Differences based on pre-CRP dates (2004-08) vs. post-CRP dates (2009-15).

Finally, consider this: A 2013-15 study of communication and resolution programs at two large Massachusetts hospital systems revealed that only 5 percent (about 49) of 989 adverse events resulted in malpractice suits. The median compensation of those suits was $75,000, compared with $255,000 nationally.

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