Study: Patient Care Improves When Docs Have Malpractice Immunity

A six-year study found that adverse medical events declined at a Miami teaching hospital after physicians received immunity from malpractice lawsuits.

Published in Health Management, Policy and Innovation, the study found there was no negative impact on patient safety when approximately 900 University of Miami Health System physicians were given sovereign immunity from medical malpractice claims while working at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The incidence of harmful events decreased by 13% over a four-year period at Jackson Memorial, a public hospital that also serves as the University of Miami’s main teaching hospital.

“This study suggests that without the threat of malpractice lawsuits, physicians are still committed to delivering the safest, highest quality patient care possible,” said David A. Lubarsky, MD, MBA, chief medical and systems integration author at the University of Miami Health and the study’s lead author, in a release.

The release noted that the rise in medical malpractice premiums has led to situations where physicians partook in “defensive medicine,” ordering unnecessary tests and procedures, and avoiding practicing in high-risk specialties. With immunity in place, those legal threats were no longer a concern.

But Lubarsky said that any tort reform should be accompanied by safety incentives to achieve the goal of improved patient safety. These initiatives include better patient data sharing, education, safety management systems, electronic medical records that encourage best practices through defaults, and enhanced error reporting.

“An effective liability system should offer incentives to institutions that adopt safer systems,” he said in the release. “These investments should result in fewer adverse events and increased quality than tort reform alone.”