Medical Malpractice Safe Harbor Better for Patient Safety Than Physician Liability, Study Finds

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The implementation of a medical malpractice safe harbor to protect physicians from claims when they follow evidence-based guidelines may be more effective in improving patient safety than reducing malpractice liability, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

Researchers analyzed closed liability claims in Oregon between 2002 and 2009 to study the effects of a hypothetical safe harbor implementation. Such a safe harbor is often suggested as a way to protect physician who follow evidence-based guidelines when delivering care.

They found the hypothetical safe harbor legislation would have changed the outcome of a malpractice claim in favor of the physician only 1 percent of the time.

However, in the claims for which physicians strayed from safe harbor guidelines, reviewers said the adverse event could have been avoided in 63.1 percent of the cases if the physician had followed the guidelines.

The study suggests patients will benefit more from medical malpractice safe harbors than physicians since physicians may be more likely to adhere to guidelines to avoid injuries resulting in claims. Additionally, the data show only a minute percentage of claims would be changed in favor of the physician.

Researchers suggest more research is needed to see how safe harbors can affect liability systems and patient care quality.


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