The number of malpractice claims filed has decreased in recent years, a trend that likely will continue thanks to changes in what claims can be tried and how much juries are allowed to award plaintiffs, according to a new report.
Malpractice claims have gone down mostly because of tort reform and the discouragement of frivolous lawsuits or because of caps on amounts that can be awarded, according to the report issued by Marsh, an insurance firm owned by Marsh & McLennan Cos.
Providers also have an increased zeal to reduce costs and improve outcomes, which also could contribute to the lower number of claims, said John Geisbush, managing director of Marshs healthcare practice.
An 18-month study of 25,000 medical malpractice claims from 1991-2005 found that the frequency of claims in 2005 was lower than 2000, according to the results. The New York-based firm, with other Marsh & McLennan units, collected data from 357 healthcare facilities in 41 states, representing $3.4 billion in incurred malpractice claims and expenses. Marsh released the report to Modern Healthcare exclusively ahead of its unveiling at the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management conference this week in Chicago.
The findings are in line with a similar annual study by insurance giant Aon Corp., which measured 65,689 claims from 800 facilities in 2006 and reported the number of malpractice claims were lower for the third straight year. Aon also found in its study a link between increased patient safety measures and lower claims, according to a summary of the report.
Marshs report breaks down the claims by specific hospital units, which should be more useful to hospitals in determining where they need to improve safety and quality and reduce their risk of lawsuits, Geisbush said.
Obstetrics accounted for 14% of the claims, but 32% of the dollars paid in claims, according to the report. On average, hospitals paid $365,477 for an obstetrics claim from 2000 to 2005, significantly higher than in other units, such as acute care, surgery, and psychiatric.
Acute-care units were the second most expensive, with an average $181,191 paid per claim in the same period. The average clinic visit claim was $147,196; emergency departments, $135,003; and surgery units, $115,455. Psychiatric units paid $112,069 per claim.
University-owned hospitals also paid more, about $133,144 per claim, than hospitals owned by other organizations, including religious, community or for-profits. Religious-affiliated hospitals paid $128,858 per claim, while acute-care facilities paid $127,831, followed by teaching facilities at $119,685, according to the report.
Geisbush said individual hospitals that participated in the study will receive reports with their specific results. He said he hopes they can use the analysis as a benchmark. The report is available free to any healthcare facility that requests it.