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L.A. County malpractice settlement payouts increased as incidents declined, study says

August 16, 2010 | 11:17 am

Los Angeles County’s payouts to settle medical malpractice lawsuits have increased in recent years even as the number of incidents leading to malpractice claims decreased, according to a county-commissioned report.

The number of incidents that either resulted in or were expected to result in malpractice lawsuits dropped from 354 in 2002 to 107 last year, according to the study released Friday and conducted by the Abaris Group, a Walnut Creek-based consulting firm.

Abaris staff reviewed past lawsuits, interviewed county staff and visited all four county hospitals and five county clinics, according to the report. They noted that they were allowed access only to settlements in closed malpractice cases, limiting their analysis of cases filed during the last two years.

They also noted that their request to observe patient care at county facilities was refused.

They found that for malpractice cases settled with the county between 2005 and 2007, county payouts increased from more than $8 million to more than $12 million.

They concluded county health officials need to improve how they monitor patient safety, share more information between facilities, develop new technology to track patient safety and streamline an overly bureaucratic system of patient-safety committees.

They found that the county’s Department of Health Services has done a better job of completing the corrective action plans required in response to malpractice claims, but that it needs to complete them more quickly and accurately.

Department officials accepted most of the consultants’ findings, according to a cover letter accompanying the report from the county’s chief executive, William T Fujioka.

“Overall, DHS notes the advances that have been made within the department, but recognizes that there is room for improvement,” Fujioka wrote in the letter addressed to the county supervisors, who are scheduled to consider the report Tuesday.

Michael Wilson, a Health Services Department spokesman, said officials were encouraged by the report. Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has pushed for increased accountability at the department, was pleased with the findings, a spokeswoman said.

“We’re encouraged by it because it does say that a lot has improved within the department when it comes to corrective actions in particular,” said spokeswoman Roxane Marquez. “The supervisor, when she came into office, made it very clear that there’s a direct connection between having a corrective action plan and improvements down the road.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske