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Massachusetts Medical Society




Errors in medicine are common and are at least partly responsible for the deaths of 180,000 patients a year. There is increasing concern about medical errors and the steps that should be taken to prevent them.Until recently, hospitals have addressed errors after the fact, through mortality and morbidity conferences, incident reports, and the like, rather than before the fact, through attention to systems defects and prevention. Likewise, medical-malpractice litigation can be filed only after an injury has occurred. Malpractice litigation is intended to create incentives to improve the quality of medical care by making physicians and hospitals accountable for their actions, but works by providing compensation for injury. A third mechanism, sanction by state medical licensing boards, can have a more direct effect, since action can be taken on the basis of a physician's danger to patients — even if consistently negligent acts have not resulted in injuries. Nonetheless, licensing boards have not sought out marginally competent physicians and usually do not take action until there has been grievous harm to a patient or until a physician has been convicted of a crime.


From The New England Journal of Medicine, George J. Annas, Medicine, Death, and the Criminal Law, Volume 333, Page 527 Copyright ©(1995) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

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