WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
An initiative several years in the making to reduce malpractice claims and settlement costs at the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation has paid off, according to a report released by Comptroller John Liu this week.
In the last ten years the number of malpractice claims filed against the city's public hospitals has dropped by 28 percent. At the same time, the actual dollar amount paid out annually has also decreased from $195 million in fiscal year 2003 to $130 million in fiscal year 2011.
According to the Comptroller Office's report in fiscal year 2011, HHC settled 249 malpractice claims at an average cost of $487,000 per suit. The biggest payout in FY2011 was $8 million to settle a claim brought by a patient who alleged that doctors failed to treat an infection which led to her becoming a ventilator dependent quadriplegic in need of around the clock care.
HHC President Alan Aviles says in the past HHC let the suits linger before taking action which drove settlement costs up in the long run. Now, he says, claims are expedited to see if they have merit.
"And if it does than we look at the case more from the standpoint well maybe this is a case that we should negotiate an early settlement around if there is clear evidence of malpractice," Aviles said.
Aviles says the claims are also now used to identify ways the entire hospital workforce can collaborate to improve patient care. "We say from housekeepers to trauma surgeons it is everybody's responsibility to be vigilant around the risks that are presented to patients in the complex hospital environment," Aviles said.
Of HHC's 11 acute care facilities, four saw an increase in malpractice claims: Bellevue, North Central Bronx, Queens and Woodhull, according to the comptroller’s data for 2011. Kings County in Brooklyn logged the most malpractice claims with 38, down from 49 the previous year, while Metropolitan in Manhattan had the fewest, at seven, down from 15 the year before.