Malpractice Liability, Patient Safety, and the Personification of Medical Injury: Opportunities for Academic Medicine

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The political battle over trial lawyers and “tort reform” centers on whether or not to reduce incentives to sue for medical malpractice by capping damages in malpractice suits and limiting legal fees. But the current struggle misstates the case for innovation in medical malpractice policy. Rather than focus exclusively on the financial consequences of legal claims, malpractice reform should move closer to the bedside, emphasizing error prevention, open communication, rapid compensation, and efficient insurance of the costs of injury. Academic health centers are well positioned to lead this effort in each of their three recognized missions: patient care, teaching, and research. Academic health centers enjoy greater institutional cohesiveness and research capacity than most other medical practice settings. Perhaps most important, their high visibility ensures that patients who suffer avoidable harm within their walls become salient to the public as individuals, not merely as dollar entries in a litigation ledger.

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