Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. The Journal of Patient Safety estimates 210,000-440,000 people die each year from medical mistakes. It’s a shocking number. It’s the equivalent of up to two commercial jumbo jets full of passengers dying from medical mistakes every day. That is unacceptable.
Despite this alarming problem, the healthcare industry in general still resists the idea of transparency in reporting medical mistakes. Instead focusing on tort reform — to limit the compensation for patients injured or killed by medical errors — instead of improving care to prevent additional mistakes. In fact, there is no medical malpractice legislation at the state or federal level that has ever addressed reducing the incidence of medical malpractice.
Adverse Medical Incident Reports
In 2004, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring health care providers to make adverse medical incident records accessible to the public. Hospitals would make these reports in certain circumstances such as an unexpected death or a surgery that was done on the wrong body part.
These records can help medical malpractice attorneys understand what went wrong and why. But some healthcare providers want to make it hard to find out the truth. Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida, which runs Baptist Health System in Jacksonville, is trying to block access to these important records on the grounds that they violate the federal patient safety act. It’s appealing the constitutional amendment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sadly, during the course of 30 years in medical malpractice litigation, more than half of the families who come to us do not wish to sue; they merely want to find out what happened to their loved one. When they discover the health care provider knew why their loved one was injured or died, and the mistake was intentionally kept from them, they get upset and decide to pursue litigation.
Our experience shows when health care providers are transparent about making mistakes, settlements and attorney’s fees are lower. For example, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky did a study in the 1980s that found disclosing errors, instead of concealing them, resulted in lower amounts being paid on claims.
Expanding access to health care providers’ records in medical malpractice cases is the best policy for both patients and the healthcare system. It will make health care providers more accountable, help reduce errors and ultimately reduce litigation. It is our hope that one day, medical errors won’t rank as the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
If you or a loved one has benn injured by medical negligence, consider contacting Terrell • Hogan attorneys Matt Sowell or Fadi Chakour at (904) 722-2228.