The American College of Surgeons' closed claims study: new insights for improving care

J Am Coll Surg. 2007 Apr;204(4):561-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2007.01.013.


Background: All physicians must be vigilant in the pursuit of safe care for patients. While problems in care are identified, education that provides an understanding of these problems and guidelines for improvement can enhance patient safety. Our objective was to determine problematic aspects of surgical care, including care provided by surgeons before, during, after, and instead of surgery, that negatively affect patient safety.

Study design: Four hundred sixty malpractice claims against general surgeons were reviewed by surgeons (FACS). All claims were closed in 2003 or 2004. The data collection was completed at five medical liability companies representing a nationwide distribution of surgeons. Surgeons also dictated or wrote narratives for each case. The quantitative data and narratives were later analyzed to determine events responsible for unsafe care.

Results: Surgeon-reviewers identified deficiencies in care that fell below accepted standards more often before and after operations than during them. These deficiencies were often the result of a failure to recognize surgical injuries, and many of these deficiencies were preventable. The quality of surgical care was satisfactorily met in 36% of cases. The most common procedures involving patient safety concerns were those involving the biliary tract, intestines, hernias, vascular system, esophagus, and stomach. The most frequent events leading to claims included delayed diagnosis, failure to diagnose, failure to order diagnostic tests, technical misadventure, delayed treatment, and failure to treat. Complications occurring most frequently were organ injuries, adult respiratory distress syndrome, and infection.

Conclusions: Closed claims reviews provide valuable data that may enhance provider performance through heightened awareness of common unsafe practices. Specifically, opportunities exist to improve surgical care provided during the preoperative and postoperative phases of treatment through continuing medical education to improve patient safety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • General Surgery / standards
  • Humans
  • Insurance Claim Review*
  • Insurance, Liability*
  • Liability, Legal
  • Male
  • Malpractice*
  • Medical Errors
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative* / adverse effects
  • United States