Most preventable medical errors do not result in a paid claim

Paid physician malpractice claims for adverse events in 2009 (from Bishop, Ryan & Casalino in this week’s JAMA):

Inpatient 4910
Outpatient 4448
Both 966
Total 10,739

By way of comparison (my calculations):

Incidence
Number of US hospitals 5,795 <1 per hospital/year
Number of admissions 37,479,709 0.00014/admission
Number of US physicians 661,400 0.01624/physician/year
Medical error deaths(preventable, IOM) 44,000 4.1 deaths/paid claim
98,000 9.1 deaths/paid claim

4.1 to 9.1 deaths per paid claim has strong implications for medical apology laws (now proposed in MA). Studdert, Mello, Gawande, Brennan and Wang (health policy All-Stars) raised this question in Health Affairs back in 2007. The key assumption is to what extent apologies will prompt litigation from patients who don’t sue today.

updated: typos

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