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Report Indicates Significant Risk of Medical Malpractice in Outpatient Care

March 09, 2014

There has been fairly extensive media coverage recently regarding hospital errors as the debate over the best way to reform our health care system continues to rage on in the wake of the troubled rollout of Obamacare. This coverage has tended to ignore the issue of errors committed outside of a hospital setting as in doctor's offices and private medical clinics. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicates that the time has come to focus on patient safety in outpatient settings. The recent study suggests that the recent focus on hospital errors may be misdirected at least in part.

The study analyzed all 10,739 paid medical malpractice claims during a one year period and revealed that over half (52%) involved outpatient care at least to some degree. The report also indicated that the ratio of medical malpractice claims when comparing inpatient hospital care and outpatient treatment had moved in the direction of outpatient medical malpractice errors. The total payout on all outpatient medical malpractice errors was $1.5 billion. While this may sound like a staggering sum, it is important to remember that these paid claims represent only a small fraction of total outpatient medical malpractice errors.

The authors of the study indicate that the sheer volume of outpatient treatment facilities complicates efforts to improve patient safety. Tara Bishop, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College indicates that many outpatient facilities may not be big enough to have a well-trained staff that focuses on improving the quality of patient safety. The majority of medical malpractice errors in an outpatient care setting involve failure to diagnose. Errors in diagnosis constitute 46 percent of all outpatient medical malpractice recoveries according to the study.

Some medical experts point out that failure to diagnose errors in an outpatient setting are typically not the result of a single error but of a series of mistakes. Tejal Gandhi, chief quality and safety officer at Partners Healthcare, conducted a separate study on outpatient treatment medical errors and found that when a delayed diagnosis occurred at least three things typically had gone wrong. Gandhi suggests developing new systematic approaches for test-result management to reduce diagnostic errors related to faulty memory and poor judgment.

The JAMA study also revealed that the two other types of common outpatient medical malpractice claims involved medication errors and errors in transitioning patients from a hospital to outpatient status. While renewed focus on the issue of outpatient errors may result in systematic approaches to improving patient safety, the potential danger to patients of injury resulting from medical malpractice in an outpatient setting persists.

Our Atlanta Medical Malpractice Attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries or wrongful death for over thirty years throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

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