A recent study of medical malpractice claims in the United States says the risk of medical error is roughly the same in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Tara Bishop led the research at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
Bishop says the researchers “were actually very surprised” by the finding that roughly half of all U.S. medical malpractice payments from 2009 involved patients who suffered injuries at the doctor’s office. The recent study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The research is based upon medical malpractice claims data from the National Practitioner Data Bank from 2005 to 2009. Inpatient and outpatient medical malpractice payments decreased slightly overall during the study period.
However, the study found in 2009, the final year of the study, 4,910 malpractice claims were paid nationwide from cases involving hospital stays; 4,448 claims for malpractice were paid for injuries sustained in outpatient settings and 966 claims were paid for medical errors involving both settings.
Bishop says “I hope it’s a wake-up call for the medical community and for patients, so we can start working on ways to solve these problems.” She says, “These weren’t trivial errors — death and major injuries were the most common reason for malpractice claims.” The claims in 2009 totaled more than $3.3 billion.
While the total number of claims for malpractice were fairly equally split between inpatient and outpatient settings, the most common errors differed between the settings. Certainly, New Jersey residents, like everywhere else in the country, visit the doctor’s office more frequently than they are admitted to hospitals. The report indicates that in 2009, there were 30 times as many outpatient visits as hospital discharges.
The most common errors in the inpatient setting that resulted in a malpractice claim involved surgical errors. Misdiagnosis of a condition was the most common medical mistake in a doctor’s office setting, according to the research.
Some experts say the malpractice claims reflected in the research may be only a small portion of overall medical errors that occur, especially in relation to the outpatient setting. Hospitals have instilled protocols in an effort to reduce surgical error, where good ideas for controlling risk of medical error in the outpatient setting has not been as universally addressed.