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Stronger malpractice laws are not linked to reduced complications

Those who support aggressive medical malpractice laws that make it easier for patients to sue claim it will result in improved care. A recent study, however, suggest that the risk of litigation may not improve patient outcomes.

"It doesn't really work – malpractice environment doesn't influence doctors to provide better care," said study leader Dr. Karl Bilimoria, director of the Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Rather, it may lead to defensive medicine practices where more tests and treatments are ordered unnecessarily just to try to minimize malpractice risk."

In this study, researchers examined 2010 data from each state regarding medical malpractice premiums, average award size and number of claims for every 100 physicians. They also examined data from 2010 on odds of death, complications or repeat operations within 30 days surgery for about 890,000 patients insured by fee-for-service Medicare at almost 3,200 hospitals nationwide. 

The researchers concluded that aggressive malpractice laws and larger claim awards did not reduce patients' risk for postoperative complications. Although this study can't prove how specific malpractice laws result in specific patient outcomes, it does support the belief of many that tort reform isn't the solution.

"This study contributes further evidence that liability pressure doesn't spur doctors to get better results for patients, but neither does adopting reforms to limit liability," said Michelle Mello, a law professor at Stanford University who wasn't involved in the study, in a recent Reuters article.

The future of medical malpractice law remains uncertain, but odds are patient claims are here to stay. Physicians who are facing such claims can defend their rights with help from an attorney.

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