December 2000 Bulletin

110 of 350 claims have ‘error;’ 52 doctors’ fault

By Jack Childers, MD

Eight members of the AAOS Committee on Professional Liability spent three days in November studying files related to malpractice claims against orthopaedic surgeons, analyzing them for the presence and significance of medical errors.

It should be noted that "error" in this context is defined as an unexpected adverse event and does not necessarily imply negligence. For example, a postoperative wound infection is considered an error, even though most surgeons consider a certain irreducible percentage inevitable.

The average file was 75 to 100 pages and contained medical, legal and administrative data. The committee scrutinized 350 files. Of these, 190 were deemed to contain an "adverse event" and 110 of those, a medical error. It should be noted, however, that only 52 of the errors were believed to have resulted from negligence on the part of the physician. Eighty-four of the errors caused harm to the patients, including some of the non-negligent ones.

The presence of an error dramatically increased the average settlement (of the cases settled with a payment) from $94,571 in those judged error free, to $141,900 in those with an error. The difference was consistent, whether or not the error was judged to be negligent.

This is a preliminary report, highlighting only a small portion of the data collected. These figures have not yet been analyzed for statistical significance.


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