In our previous post we discussed a new study from Weill Cornell Medical College which indicates that medical malpractice lawsuit payouts go to almost as many claims based on outpatient malpractice as hospital malpractice claims. The researchers looked at payouts from malpractice lawsuits listed in the National Practitioner Data Bank from 2005 and 2009 and found that there was only a slight drop in malpractice payments to patients injured in outpatient settings.

The number of malpractice damage awards was $3.3 billion over this five year period. While this seems like an astonishing number at first, it is important to remember that medical malpractice can result in a catastrophic injury such as cerebral palsy that may cause a patient to endure a lifetime of medical treatment. Medical malpractice can also cause the wrongful death of a patient and rob a Massachusetts family of its sole wage earner.

Payments went to 4,910 hospital patients in 2009, the last year analyzed by the researchers. That same year 4,448 outpatient errors resulted in malpractice payments and 966 cases involved both inpatient and outpatient errors.

“These weren’t trivial errors – death and major injuries were the most common reason for malpractice claims,” said Tara Bishop, the lead researcher of the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The most common errors in hospitals were surgical errors whereas the most common errors in outpatient settings were failure to diagnose errors. Bishop said that patients should keep doctors informed about what happened between visits and stay informed about the tests and medications they receive.

“I do hope that patients will realize that it’s important to take control of what happens in their healthcare,” she said.

Source: Reuters, “Medical errors don’t just happen at hospitals: study,” Elaine Lies, 6/14/11