Clinical practice guidelines for pressure ulcer prevention can prevent malpractice lawsuits in older patients

J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 1999 Jul;26(4):175-84. doi: 10.1016/s1071-5754(99)90042-6.


Objective: To evaluate the impact of implementation of and compliance with practice guidelines for pressure ulcer (PU) prevention using medical malpractice litigation data.

Setting and subjects: Forty-nine plaintiffs whose respective compensations ($14,418,770 in 35 plaintiffs) or dismissals had been reported in 2 legal databases. PU verdicts and settlements for plaintiffs 60 years of age and older were evaluated using the American Geriatric Society's Clinical Practice Guidelines, "Pressure Ulcers in Adults: Prediction and Prevention."

Methods: Litigation analysis was used to identify the effect, implementation of, and compliance with PU prevention practice guidelines on malpractice awards in PU lawsuits. Data were obtained using fact patterns from 2 legal databases, LEXIS and WESTLAW. Potential decreases in plaintiff awards and prevention of disability were calculated assuming that health care defendants had modified their behavior to conform to the practice guidelines. Possible increases in defendant awards were used to estimate the added risks to health care professionals of adopting these guidelines as the standard of care.

Main outcome measures: Projected changes in verdicts, monetary awards expressed in dollars, and disability score.

Results: Had health care defendants followed these guidelines, $11,389,989 might have been saved in 20 lawsuits. Violations of guidelines appeared to "cluster" together, with many plaintiffs alleging breeches of several interrelated guidelines. It appears that improving the level of care required to remedy 1 guideline variation could improve the outcomes for the entire cluster. In contrast, the use of the guidelines in court as the standard of care against defendant health care professionals might have contributed to changing only 4 of 14 defense verdicts.

Conclusions: Use of clinical pathways in these settings can benefit both caregivers and patients by favorably modifying preventive practice patterns while decreasing vulnerability to litigation. Conversely, the continuing threat of fault-based litigation against substandard practitioners and facilities provides an ongoing safeguard of patient rights and reduces the risk of subsequent disability.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Disabled Persons
  • Geriatric Nursing / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Geriatric Nursing / standards
  • Guideline Adherence / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / economics
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Malpractice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Pressure Ulcer / nursing*
  • Risk Management / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States