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Education effort targets risk of misdiagnosis and other errors

An idea that was first proposed in 2005 in both the failed Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act and in passed legislation that created Patient Safety Organizations may be nearing implementation. A group of legal and medical professionals is in discussions over the idea of using medical malpractice lawsuits as teaching tools to reduce the risk of misdiagnosis and other errors. This project is taking place in New York, but success could mean implementation in other states, including Massachusetts.

The idea is that attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant will sit down with a judge after a case's conclusion and create a narrative. Identifying information would then be stripped out of the narrative so that it could be uploaded to a central clearinghouse for use by hospitals, universities and other institutions. The impetus came from a lawyer who noted that much useful information presented during malpractice trials ends up "being buried" instead of being used to enhance patient safety.

Significant hurdles exist in implementation, including the combative nature of malpractice trials, reluctance to admit errors and confidentiality concerns. However, Patient Safety Organizations have already begun implementation of databases for anonymous malpractice errors, and a trend toward greater transparency has been seen in the medical profession.

Part of the strength of an organization is its ability to document and learn from past mistakes. Health providers have traditionally been reluctant to engage in this learning process. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency ends up damaging the lives of patients. Failure to diagnose and other medical errors may increase a patient's medical expenses, risk of death and pain and suffering. A malpractice attorney may be able to help patients access compensation for their injuries.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Tapping medical malpractice cases for safety lessons," Terry Baynes, April 11, 2013

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