Malpractice in America: Is Anything Getting Better?

Anne L. Finger, MA


January 06, 2014

In This Article

What's Happening on a National Level?

In 2010, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) funded seven 3-year demonstration projects with grants totaling $23.2 million.[12] All were designed to incorporate 1 or more of these categories: patient safety and medical liability reform innovations, preventing harm through best practices, improving communication with patients, and offering alternative methods of dispute resolution.

The projects are based in Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, St. Louis, Seattle, New York, and Boston. They focus on disclosure efforts, a nationwide collaborative to improve perinatal safety, enhanced communication training for healthcare workers, and various approaches to identify medical errors and protect patients from injury.

"AHRQ recently informed us that the preliminary findings from the demo projects were positive," says Atchinson of PIAA. "More information is expected from AHRQ within the next few months."

What's Still the Best Way for Doctors to Protect Themselves?

Sacopulos says, "The big thing is personality: spending time with the patient." Errors are inevitable, he says; the key is how you address them and whether you're up-front with the patient. "Any number of world-class physicians get sued with regularity," he notes. "They'll say, 'I'm double board-certified, and this guy who never gets sued just holds hands and sings 'Kumbaya.'' That double standard is missed by so many physicians. They know good vs bad medicine, but the patient can only evaluate on the personal level, not on the clinical level."

Anderson suggests that whether you're in a solo, group, or hospital setting, be consistent in the way you practice. For example, there are many guidelines for mammography, and the radiologist follows different ones than does a family physician or an ob/gyn. "Unless physicians discuss what's reasonable and reach consensus on a set of guidelines, you may find reports of a need for a yearly mammogram that you disagree with," he cautions. Such inconsistencies among treating physicians can raise a red flag, so "If you can't bridge that gap, get a different radiologist."

"It's a very challenging time for medicine," observes Anderson. "The next decade will be difficult." He believes this period is similar to 100 years ago, when the publication of the Flexner Report revolutionized medicine. "We're going to be changing the nature of the doctor's responsibility -- from being a relentless advocate for the individual patient to becoming an advocate for population health." If that view is correct, he says, "it's a major change -- it may be good or bad, but it will be a major change."


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