Open Access Research article

Conditions that influence the impact of malpractice litigation risk on physicians’ behavior regarding patient safety

Erik Renkema*, Manda Broekhuis and Kees Ahaus

Author Affiliations

University of Groningen, Faculty of Economics and Business, Operations Department, P.O. Box 800, 9700, AV Groningen, The Netherlands

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:38  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-38

Published: 25 January 2014

Abstract

Background

Practicing safe behavior regarding patients is an intrinsic part of a physician’s ethical and professional standards. Despite this, physicians practice behaviors that run counter to patient safety, including practicing defensive medicine, failing to report incidents, and hesitating to disclose incidents to patients. Physicians’ risk of malpractice litigation seems to be a relevant factor affecting these behaviors. The objective of this study was to identify conditions that influence the relationship between malpractice litigation risk and physicians’ behaviors.

Methods

We carried out an exploratory field study, consisting of 22 in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the malpractice litigation process: five physicians, two hospital board members, five patient safety staff members from hospitals, three representatives from governmental healthcare bodies, three healthcare law specialists, two managing directors from insurance companies, one representative from a patient organization, and one representative from a physician organization. We analyzed the comments of the participants to find conditions that influence the relationship by developing codes and themes using a grounded approach.

Results

We identified four factors that could affect the relationship between malpractice litigation risk and physicians’ behaviors that run counter to patient safety: complexity of care, discussing incidents with colleagues, personalized responsibility, and hospitals’ response to physicians following incidents.

Conclusion

In complex care settings procedures should be put in place for how incidents will be discussed, reported and disclosed. The lack of such procedures can lead to the shift and off-loading of responsibilities, and the failure to report and disclose incidents. Hospital managers and healthcare professionals should take these implications of complexity into account, to create a supportive and blame-free environment. Physicians need to know that they can rely on the hospital management after reporting an incident. To create realistic care expectations, patients and the general public also need to be better informed about the complexity and risks of providing health care.

Keywords:
Physicians; Malpractice litigation risk; Patient safety