Objective: To estimate whether guideline compliance affected medicolegal risk in obstetrics and whether malpractice claims data can provide useful information on guideline noncompliance by focusing on the claims experience of a large health system delivering approximately 12000 infants annually.
Methods: We retrospectively identified 290 delivery-related (diagnosis-related groups 370-374) malpractice claims and 262 control deliveries at the health system during the period from 1988 to 1998. Clinical pathways for vaginal and cesarean delivery implemented in 1998 were used as a "standard of care." We compared rates of noncompliance with the pathways in the claims and control groups, calculated an odds ratio for increased risk of being sued given departure from the guideline standards, and calculated the elevated risk of litigation introduced by noncompliance. We also compared the frequencies of different types of departures across claims and control groups.
Results: Claims closely resembled controls on several descriptive measures (mother's age, location of delivery, type of delivery, and complication rates), but noncompliance with the clinical pathway was significantly more common among claims than controls (43.2% versus 11.7%, P <.001; odds ratio = 5.76, 95% confidence interval 3.59, 9.2). In 81 (79.4%) of the claims involving noncompliance with the pathway, the main allegation in the claim related directly to the departure from the pathway. The excess malpractice risk attributable to noncompliance explained approximately one third (104 of 290) of the claims filed (attributable risk = 82.6%). There were no significant differences in the types of deviation from the guidelines across claims and control groups.
Conclusion: In addition to reducing clinical variation and improving clinical quality of care, adherence to clinical pathways might protect clinicians and institutions against malpractice litigation. Malpractice data might also be a useful resource in understanding breakdowns in processes of care.