Peer review: Increasing patient safety, holding doctors accountable

There is a constant struggle between patient safety and doctor autonomy. Many people argue that there are too many frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, causing doctors to pay too much in insurance and to face undeserved scrutiny. These arguments are the reason there are medical malpractice caps. They are also the reason some of the victims of medical malpractice face substantial obstacles when trying to recover compensation for their legitimate injuries.

Yet, medical malpractice statistics do not support the arguments. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 90 percent of medical malpractice claims filed in the 75 largest U.S. counties were brought by patients with permanent injuries caused by malpractice or the family members of someone who died from medical malpractice. And only one quarter of those that bring med mal lawsuits win. Many more injured patients never bring a lawsuit and never receive compensation for their injuries.

That is why medical malpractice lawyers and patient safety advocates continue to fight for better safety regulations.

A recent article looked at the evolution of patient safety initiatives involving peer review in New Jersey and throughout the country. Peer review was created to identify physicians who are unable to perform their jobs safely. Through peer review, hospitals have improved their procedures and the medical care they provide to patients. Yet, some medical professionals believe that the peer review process increases medical malpractice lawsuits and impacts confidentiality.

The New Jersey Patient Safety Act (NJ PSA) states that the facts in peer review committee reports are not privileged information and subject to discovery while the evaluative information in the reports is privileged.

In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005. This Act allows the government to create patient safety organizations (PSOs) who work to improve patient safety. Under the ACT, PSO reports are considered confidential as “work product.” Whether the facts of these reports are subject to discovery like those of peer review reports is yet to be determined in most states.

Internal review helps keep patients safe. It is a positive patient safety initiative that must continue. However, if the peer review report proves that a doctor has caused serious injury to a patient, shouldn’t that doctor be held accountable?

Source: Medscape News, “Will Patient Safety Initiatives Harm Physicians?,” Brian S. Kern, Mar. 9, 2012.