One major intent of the medical malpractice system in the United States is to deter negligent care and to create incentives for delivering high-quality health care. A study was conducted to assess whether state-level measures of malpractice risk were associated with hospital quality and patient safety.
In an observational study of short-term, acute-care general hospitals in the United States that publicly reported in the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services Hospital Compare in 2011, hierarchical regression models were used to estimate associations between state-specific malpractice environment measures (rates of paid claims, average Medicare Malpractice Geographic Practice Cost Index [MGPCI], absence of tort reform laws, and a composite measure) and measures of hospital quality (processes of care, imaging utilization, 30-day mortality and readmission, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Indicators, and patient experience from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems [HCAHPS]).
No consistent association between malpractice environment and hospital process-of-care measures was found. Hospitals in areas with a higher MGPCI were associated with lower adjusted odds of magnetic resonance imaging overutilization for lower back pain but greater adjusted odds of overutilization of cardiac stress testing and brain/sinus computed tomography (CT) scans. The MGPCI was negatively associated with 30-day mortality measures but positively associated with 30-day readmission measures. Measures of malpractice risk were also negatively associated with HCAHPS measures of patient experience.
Overall, little evidence was found that greater malpractice risk improves adherence to recommended clinical standards of care, but some evidence was found that malpractice risk may encourage defensive medicine.