Patient deaths and permanent injuries accounted for more than 66 percent of claim payments for medical malpractice in 2002, according to new data released Thursday by the Missouri Department of Insurance. Cases involving patient deaths increased 49 percent from 2001.
“This increase in deaths in one year is something we’ve never seen before,” said Randy McConnell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Insurance.
Last year, out of the 566 total paid claims for malpractice cases against all Missouri medical care providers the patient died in 205 cases. That means two of every five paid claims involved cases where the patient had actually died.
Numbers for 2003 are not yet available.
According to the data, the average payment for patient death was $254,944 in 2002, compared to $194,067 in 2001.
In cases where patients sustained permanent injuries the average award increased from $242,100 to $291,079.
However, the increases in payments are less than those experienced in previous years.
The total paid claims involve cases in which the plaintiff won against medical care providers, which includes physicians, surgeons and hospitals. But insurance department statistics show that Missouri physicians traditionally win more than 70 percent of jury cases against plaintiffs. Hospitals win slightly fewer.
Question of motive
Tom Holloway, director of government relations for the Missouri State Medical Association, said the state’s Department of Insurance data is misleading and “extremely politicized.”
“The implication is that doctors across the state are suddenly maiming their patients,” Holloway said. “The bad outcomes of medical errors are not necessarily synonymous with medical malpractice.”
“We feel the reason for this alarming rise is pure and simple: medical errors,” said Ashley Allen, executive director of Missouri Watch, a nonpartisan consumer rights organization based in Jefferson City.
Medical errors, often the result of medical negligence, have long been a problem in the health care industry. In 1999, the National Institute of Medicine reported that medical errors were the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, ahead of AIDS and breast cancer.
The institute’s researchers estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year due to medical errors, with about 2,000 of those deaths taking place in Missouri.
In September, Gov. Bob Holden appointed the 17-member Missouri Commission of Patient Safety to discuss policy solutions for reducing medical errors and improving the quality of health care. The commission has met three times since October.