Transparent and open discussion of errors does not increase malpractice risk in trauma patients

Ronald M. Stewart, Michael G. Corneille, Joe Johnston, Kathy Geoghegan, John G. Myers, Daniel L. Dent, Marilyn McFarland, Joshua Alley, Basil A. Pruitt, Stephen M. Cohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: We set out to determine if there is an increased medical malpractice lawsuit rate when trauma patient cases are presented at an open, multidisciplinary morbidity and mortality conference (M&M). INTRODUCTION: Patient safety proponents emphasize the importance of transparency with respect to medical errors. In contrast, the tort system focuses on blame and punishment, which encourages secrecy. Our question: Can the goals of the patient safety movement be met without placing care providers and healthcare institutions at unacceptably high malpractice risk? METHODS: The trauma registry, a risk management database, along with the written minutes of the trauma morbidity and mortality conference (M&M) were used to determine the number and incidence of malpractice suits filed following full discussion at an open M&M conference at an academic level I trauma center. RESULTS: A total of 20,749 trauma patients were admitted. A total of 412 patients were discussed at M&M conference and a total of seven lawsuits were filed. Six of the patients were not discussed at M&M prior to the lawsuit being filed. One patient was discussed at M&M prior to the lawsuit being filed. The incidence of lawsuit was calculated in three groups: all trauma patients, all trauma patients with complications, and all patients presented at trauma M&M conference. The ratio of lawsuits filed to patients admitted and incidence in the three groups is as follows: All Patients, 7 lawsuits/20,479 patients (4.25 lawsuits/100,000 patients/year); M&M Presentation, 1 lawsuit/421 patients (29.6 lawsuits/100,000 patients/year); All Trauma Complications, 7 lawsuits/6,225 patients (14 lawsuits/100,000 patients/year). Patients with a complication were more likely to sue (P < 0.01); otherwise, there were no statistical differences between groups. CONCLUSIONS: A transparent discussion of errors, complications, and deaths does not appear to lead to an increased risk of lawsuit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-649
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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