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Study: Stronger malpractice laws don't improve surgical outcomes

Do strong malpractice laws impact the quality of care that patients receive? At least in one area -- post-surgical complications -- they don't. That was the finding of a recent study by Northwestern University's medical school.

To determine a state's "malpractice environment," as the lead researcher put it, those who conducted the study considered the number of claims per 100 doctors (as of 2010), the average malpractice award size and malpractice insurance premiums.

They analyzed data on approximately 890,000 surgical patients on Medicare at almost 3,200 hospitals around the country. Specifically, they looked at how many people died, had repeat surgeries or suffered complications within 30 days following their operation.

The study found that post-operative outcomes, considering the factors above, were no better in states with larger malpractice awards and more aggressive laws than in other states. In fact, they found that in the states where doctors were more likely, statistically, to be sued, patients more commonly suffered from sepsis after surgery. That's an infection in the bloodstream that can be fatal. There were also more likely to suffer gastrointestinal bleeding, acute kidney failure and pneumonia.

The study's lead researcher concluded that "malpractice environment" doesn't influence doctors to provide better care," although "it may lead to defensive medicine practices where more tests and treatments are ordered unnecessarily just to try to minimize malpractice risk."

A law professor involved in the study says while it provides "further evidence that liability pressure doesn't spur doctors to get better results for patients…neither does adopting reforms to limit liability." Another law professor, not involved in the study, said, "The only things that are really clear are that too many patients are injured, too few of those receive compensation, and the whole process is slow and miserable for both physicians and patients,"

Even if stronger malpractice laws don't necessarily impact surgical outcomes, they do make it easier for injured patients and surviving loved ones to take legal action against medical professionals who have acted in a negligent or reckless manner. Mississippi malpractice attorneys work with those who have suffered as the result of medical malpractice to seek justice and compensation.

Source: Reuters, "Stronger malpractice laws may not prevent surgical complications," Lisa Rapaport, Jan. 27, 2017

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