Medical malpractice overhaul could save millions of dollars and improve patient safety

Nations like Denmark and New Zealand take a radically different approach to medical errors, and a similar model could improve patient safety in the United States, according to Pro Publica.

Rather than medical malpractice, Denmark has a national program that compensates patients for harm suffered due to medical errors and shares its data with hospitals and researchers.

Under such a system, the emphasis is on helping the patients, and the data-sharing aspect also helps identify particularly high-risk providers. This stands in stark contrast to the blame-shifting and opacity that is common to the medical error response process in the U.S., where such errors are the third-leading cause of death. This is in large part the nature of the malpractice system, which doesn't provide incentives for apologies or transparency and imposes a prohibitively high standard for patients who seek to prove they are entitled to damages, according to Pro Publica.

While the Danish system may seem difficult to adapt in the U.S., the article states that tests of similar alternate error responses in the country have shown promising results on a small scale, such as Virginia and Florida programs that offer compensation for major neurological childbirth injuries.

The secret to such programs' successes, regardless of what kind of healthcare system they are applied to, is the central theme of keeping the victims of patient harm in the loop whether the hospital is at fault, which keeps providers from seeing themselves and the patients as on opposite sides in such situations. In addition, the program costs Denmark considerably less than the nearly $10 billion U.S. providers spend on malpractice payouts and associated administrative costs.

"It's not easy to discuss a mistake, but there has to be a very safe relationship between doctor and patient," Ole Hamberg, M.D., the head liver specialist at Rigshospitalet, Denmark's national hospital, told Pro Publica. "The most important thing in patient safety is to talk about it."

To learn more:
- read the article