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Time to focus on medical errors outside the hospital

The Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2011

Efforts to improve patient safety need to move beyond the hospital to outpatient settings such as doctors' offices. That's one of the takeaways from a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzes the malpractice claims paid on behalf of physicians. In 2009, there were 10,739 paid claims. In that year, the number of out- and in-patient claims was about the same (and both fell from 2005 levels), but the proportion of claims associated with outpatient care had edged up slightly. Counting events involving both settings, 52.5% involved outpatient care at least in part, resulting in about $1.5 billion in malpractice payments. Tara Bishop, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, says that while there are about 30 times as many outpatient visits as inpatient visits in a given year, the characteristics of the two differ so much that it's hard to make a direct comparison about the relative risk of an error