No-fault Compensation for Medical Injuries

The Prospect for Error Prevention

Published In: JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association, v. 286, no. 2, July 11, 2001, p. 217-223

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2000

by David M. Studdert, Troyen A Brennan

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Leading patient safety proposals promote the design and implementation of error prevention strategies that target systems used to deliver care and eschew individual blame. They also call for candor among practitioners about the causes and consequences of medical injury. Both goals collide with fundamental tenets of the medical malpractice system. Thus, the challenge of addressing error in medicine demands a thorough reconsideration of the legal mechanisms currently used to deal with harms in health care. In this article, the authors describe an alternative to litigation that does not predicate compensation on proof of practitioner fault, suggest how it might be operationalized, and argue that there is a pressing need to test its promise. The authors tackle traditional criticisms of no-fault compensation systems for medical injury specifically, concerns about their cost and the presumption that eliminating liability will dilute incentives to deliver high-quality care. Our recent empirical work suggests that a model designed around avoidable or preventable injuries, as opposed to negligent ones, would not exceed the costs of current malpractice systems in the United States. Implementation of such a model promises to promote quality by harmonizing injury compensation with patient safety objectives, especially if it is linked to reforms that make institutions, rather than individuals, primarily answerable for injuries.

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