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Does Full Disclosure of Medical Errors Affect Malpractice Liability? The Jury Is Still Out

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Background: Mandatory disclosure of medical errors has been advocated to improve patient safety. Many resist mandatory disclosure policies because of concerns about increasing malpractice exposure. It has been countered that malpractice liability actually decreases when there is full disclosure of medical errors. A comprehensive literature search was conducted to determine what is known about the impact of full disclosure on malpractice liability.

Methods: Electronic searches of multiple databases were supplemented with hand searches of bibliographies and communication with recognized experts in the field.

Results: Screening the titles, abstracts, and, in many cases, the full articles from more than an estimated 5,200 citations resulted in identification of one published study directly examining malpractice liability when a policy of full disclosure was implemented.

Discussion: Despite extensive literature on the impact of disclosure on malpractice liability, few well-designed studies have focused on the real-world impact on the volume and cost of suits following implementation of a full disclosure policy. Many articles examine why patients sue their doctors, suggesting that some lawsuits may be averted by disclosure, but the articles do not allow us to estimate the additional suits that would be created by disclosure. Additional studies addressing the effect of disclosure on malpractice liability are needed.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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