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

Ann Surg. 2006 May;243(5):645-9; discussion 649-51. doi: 10.1097/01.sla.0000217304.65877.27.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Malpractice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medical Errors / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Risk Factors
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*