Medical Malpractice Litigation Rarely Compensates Patients

Harvard Medical Practice Study

In 1990, The Harvard Medical Practice Study was published. This report, titled, “Patients, Doctors, and Lawyers: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation and Patient Compensation in New York,” was conducted to estimate medical malpractice and the injuries caused by medical malpractice in New York.The study utilized physician reviewers of records and consultants who were New York specialists.

According to the study, “adverse events” occurred in 3.7% of the total hospitalizations. 27.6% of those adverse events were due to negligence. 13.6% of the adverse events led to death. Almost half of the adverse events were associated with surgical procedures.The Harvard study also found that 75% of the negligence was a result of errors in diagnosing the patients while 18% resulted from negligence with drug complications.

As part of the Harvard study, records of the sample were matched with statewide data on medical malpractice claims in an attempt to discover the number of documented malpractice claims relative to the documented acts of negligence. Of the 280 persons who had documented adverse events caused by medical negligence only 8 people filed medical malpractice claims. This represents an astonishing 2% of the documented medical malpractice claims.

The Harvard study concluded: “Med mal litigation infrequently compensates patients injured by med negligence and rarely identifies and holds providers accountable for substandard care. Med Mal claims are rarely made after patients are injured negligently.”

The study also estimated that only 6.5 of 1000 physicians will be sued in a given year. However, physicians perceive that number to be three times higher. When asked in a randomly mailed survey about the number of new cases each year, physicians estimated that 19.5 out of every 1000 physicians would be sued in a given year. This data suggests that although physicians perception of the risk of being sued might serve as a potential deterrent to negligent conduct, that deterrence is based on misperception of risk.

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