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Does Immunity from Medical Malpractice Improve Patient Care?

You trust your physician to provide optimum care, not just because he or she is under the potential threat of a medical malpractice lawsuit. But would the care be any different if medical malpractice were taken out of the equation? A recent study, reported in MPR, explored exactly that.

The study, published in Health Management, Policy and Innovation, followed 900 physicians who worked at two Florida hospitals. At Jackson Memorial Hospital, the physicians were granted sovereign immunity from malpractice in 2011. Sovereign immunity protects medical personnel who work at a government entity from being held personally liable in civil suits.  At the University of Miami Hospital, the physicians continued to work under the threat of malpractice suits.

While the two hospitals were not directly compared in the study because of differences in number of beds and service lines, the data at each hospital was analyzed. The researchers found a 13 percent drop in harmful events at Jackson Memorial after the granting of sovereign immunity. There also was a significant decline in total and average claims.

The researchers noted that tort reform alone will not increase safety. “An effective liability system should offer incentives to institutions that adopt safer systems,” said Dr. David A. Lubarsky, chief medical and systems integration officer at the University of Miami Health System and lead author of the study.

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