Stronger Malpractice Laws May Not Prevent Surgical Complications
A study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons looked at patients undergoing one of the following operations in 2010: colorectal, lung, esophageal, or pancreatic resection, total knee arthroplasty, craniotomy, gastric bypass, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, coronary artery bypass grafting, or cystectomy. The study also looked at where these patients had their operation and that state’s medical malpractice environment. A state’s environment was measured by 2010 medical malpractice insurance premiums, state average award size, paid malpractice claims/100 physicians, and other factors. The study then compared these factors and looked at whether the patients received better medical care in states with a stronger threat of litigation against medical malpractice. 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.
In conclusion, the study found that states with higher risk malpractice environments were not consistently associated with a lower likelihood of surgical postoperative complications. Therefore, it is not likely that threats of medical malpractice lawsuits actually promote higher quality health care. In fact, the study found the opposite. In states where doctors faced greater risk from malpractice claims, patients were 22 percent more likely to develop sepsis, a potentially life-threatening bloodstream infection, the study found. Patients in states where doctors had the most litigation risk were also 9 percent more likely to develop pneumonia, 15 percent more likely to suffer acute kidney failure and 18 percent more likely to have gastrointestinal bleeding.