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Research Institute: Medical Malpractice and Medical Errors

It is widely believed that medical errors and medical malpractice are closely related phenomena, with malpractice lawsuits arising out of medical errors. As a result of this belief, we have approached the medical malpractice problem by focusing much of our attention on reducing medical errors. The thinking is that by reducing errors, we will reduce lawsuits.

Unfortunately, this approach will not work. Two prospective studies, which were done a decade apart and at opposite ends of the country, found that less than 20% of medical malpractice lawsuits were filed by patients who had suffered a medical error. Many of the other litigants had suffered injury, but not as a result of medical error.

According to the principles of mathematics, this means that even if we are able to reduce medical errors by 25% (which would be a phenomenal accomplishment), the number of medical malpractice lawsuits would fall by less than 5%. Although they may each be a problem worthy of our attention, medical malpractice lawsuits and medical errors are largely unrelated phenomena. And, we therefore cannot solve one by solving the other.

The New England Journal of Medicine
Original Article

Volume 325:245-251
July 25, 1991
Number 4

Medical Care:
March 2000 - Volume 38 - Issue 3 - pp 250-260
Original Articles

Medical-legal education with a passion for medicine and compassion for patients.