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New York City Hospitals: Better Care Not Just About Fewer Malpractice Suits

Towards the end of December 2012, WNYC published an article indicating that New York City hospitals had been effective at reducing medical malpractice claims and settlement costs. According to the article, the number of lawsuits filed against the city’s public hospitals in the prior 10 years had dropped by 28 percent and the dollar amounts paid out to patients had decreased from $195 million in 2003 to $130 million in 2011.

The article also indicated that 249 cases had settled at an average cost of $487,000 per lawsuit.

While our New York City medical malpractice attorneys believe that hospitals should make every possible effort to reduce claims of malpractice, we urge hospitals to focus not just on achieving quick settlements and reducing payouts but more importantly on improving hospital safety initiatives to reduce malpractice. Meaningful malpractice reform shouldn’t mean a better way of expediting and settling cases but should mean that hospitals provide better care to patients.

Efforts to Improve Hospital Safety

According to WNYC, hospitals are doing several different things in their efforts to reduce malpractice claims and settlement costs. For example, they have a new system in place to expedite claims and see if they have merit. This allows for quicker negotiation of settlements and earlier negotiations of settlement when there is clear evidence of malpractice. The president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation indicated that previously suits had lingered longer before action was taken, making settlement costs more expensive.

Speedy settlements are good for hospital malpractice victims — only if they are fair. However, it is important that patients not agree to any type of settlement unless they know the full extent of their injuries and are certain that the settlement is fair and full compensation. Further, it is important that patients not be rushed into accepting a settlement and that they have their case and settlement offer reviewed by a lawyer before giving up their rights.

WNYC also indicated that the HHC president was using malpractice cases to try to work to improve patient care. The cases can identify weaknesses that are harming patients and everyone in the hospital can work together to reduce risks presented in hospital environments. It is this type of effort that is needed, not just a rush to quick settlements, if there is to be a meaningful improvement in patient care and a reduction in the number of people who are seriously hurt by hospital negligence.

New York City hospitals continue to have lingering problems when it comes to patient care, in large part because they are understaffed. In 2011, an article in the Huffington Post indicated that patients visiting New York emergency rooms had to wait longer than almost anyone else in the entire country, with a 296 minute average wait time. Administrative problems and lack of effective guidelines for patient care also create problems. In 2010, for example, the New York Times reported that a routine records review revealed that around 4,000 tests for heart disease performed over three years had gone unread at Harlem hospitals.

Future budget cuts will only serve to exacerbate the problems that New York hospitals are facing. Unfortunately, this means patients may still not be getting the care that they should in hospitals throughout New York.

If you or a loved one has been injured by malpractice in a New York City hospital, contact Queller, Fisher, Washor, Fuchs & Kool at 212-406-1700.

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