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Medical error rates: How is Connecticut doing?

The issues of hospital negligence and medical malpractice have played out publicly and politically here in Connecticut as they have in many other states. In 2005, the state legislature passed several medical malpractice-related measures, some of which make it more difficult for patients and their families to sue for injuries and death.

But Connecticut has so far managed to avoid a “tort reform” measure adopted by many other states: jury award caps. Those pushing for caps argued that by limiting the amount of money juries can award medical malpractice plaintiffs, malpractice insurance rates would decrease and the savings would be passed on to patients in the form of lower healthcare costs. States that have enacted caps have so far seen very little reduction in healthcare costs despite lower malpractice insurance rates.

In light of this, it is reasonable to assume that the best way to address medical malpractice costs is not to limit patients’ access to the civil justice system. Rather, it should be up to hospitals and medical professionals to find ways to lower error rates and fix systemic issues that adversely affect patient care.

This common-sense approach is being tried in many healthcare systems across Connecticut and the initial results seem promising. There are 29 acute-care hospitals in Connecticut. Together, they spent nearly $120 million in 2012 on medical malpractice insurance. This is a lot of money, to be sure. But the malpractice insurance costs in 2012 were 16.1 percent lower than they were in 2009. They were 5.6 percent lower than they had been just a year earlier in 2011.

Human beings make mistakes regardless of what kind of work they do. But in fields where mistakes can cost untold sums of money and human lives – aerospace and nuclear power, for instance – policies are put in place to ensure that mistakes are caught and avoided before they cause harm.

Hospitals in Connecticut are starting to use similar models to improve healthcare delivery and reduce errors. Strategies as simple as using checklists can make a significant difference in quality of care and patient safety.

In order to truly lower costs for everyone, we should not be talking about strategies to make it harder for patients to sue for medical malpractice. Instead, we need to improve care in such a way as to avoid injurious and fatal medical errors in the first place.

Source: Hartford Business, "Hospitals battle medical malpractice costs," Greg Bordonaro, April 28, 2014

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