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Frivolous Claims Account for Small Fraction of Costs

More than three-quarters of administrative costs spent on malpractice claims involving medical errors

WEDNESDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- The majority of resources involved in malpractice claims go toward resolving and paying those that involve errors, indicating it may be more cost-effective to streamline claims processing rather than discourage claims, according to a study in the May 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

David M. Studdert, LL.B., Sc.D., M.P.H., of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues had trained physicians analyze a random sample of 1,452 closed malpractice claims to ascertain if a medical injury had happened and, if so, if it involved medical error. The researchers then analyzed the prevalence, characteristics, litigation outcomes and costs of claims that lacked evidence of error.

Three percent of claims had no verifiable medical injuries and 84 percent of these did not lead to compensation. Thirty-seven percent did not involve errors and 72 percent of these did not lead to compensation. Claims not involving errors accounted for 13 to 16 percent of the system's total monetary costs, while 54 cents of each compensation dollar went to lawyers, experts, courts and other administrative costs. More than three-fourths of administrative costs were spent on claims involving errors.

"The vast majority of resources go toward resolving and paying claims that involve errors," the authors conclude. "A higher-value target for reform than discouraging claims that do not belong in the system would be streamlining the processing of claims that do belong."

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