Who actually knows what a malpractice settlement consists of? 5 things to know

An academic health system with a stated commitment to patient safety and transparency used nondisclosure agreements in most malpractice settlements with very little standardization or consistency, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine study.

Researchers analyzed settlement agreements made by the University of Texas System, which closed 715 malpractice claims and made 150 settlement payments during study periods.

Here are five things to know about the study:

1. The nondisclosure scope was often broader than necessary, protecting physicians and hospitals from disparagement or avoiding publicity that could attract other claimants.

2. Some settlements prohibited reporting to regulatory agencies, which the health system changed in response to their findings.

3. Researchers say in cases where the harm could occur again, confidentiality agreements "can be contrary to the public interest."

4. The University paid an average of $100,000 in compensation, including non-disclosure provisions.

5. Every nondisclosure clauses prohibited disclosing settlement term amounts; additionally:

  • 55.5 percent prohibited disclosing that a settlement was reached
  • 46.4 percent prohibited disclosing claim facts
  • 26.4 percent prohibited reporting to regulatory agencies
  • 2.7 percent included specific language prohibiting claimants from disparaging the physicians or hospitals

"There is increasing consensus, even among early proponents of protected peer review, that greater transparency to patients and the public is necessary for safety to improve," concluded the study authors.

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