Unusual Incident Reporting in Tennessee

Last year I wrote about the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s 2008 Medical Malpractice Claims Report.  The report revealed data from medical malpractice cases settled and tried in Tennessee in calendar year 2007.

The numbers:

Total judgments for plaintiffs  

2007             7

Total settlements                     

2007         492

Cases Dismissed   With No Payment

2007        2238  (plus another 306 claims dismissed on defense verdicts for a total of 2544)

That is interesting, but wouldn’t it be nice to know how much malpractice occurred?  We know that approximately 2000 people die in Tennessee hospitals each year as a result of medical malpractice, but data on out-of-hospital deaths and data on injuries is hard to find.

But I came across this interesting report that sheds a little light on the issue.  Tennessee health care providers are required to report "unusual events" to the Department  of Health.  In 2006 there were 8,301 unusual events reported to the State.  That is not a typo – 8, 301.

And what constitutes an unusual event?  Falls with fractures (1295),  death (170), rape (17), retained foreign body (50) , wrong patient, wrong site surgery (27), and many more.

I am not suggesting that every "unusual event" is medical malpractice.  I am also not suggesting that each of these 8,301 self-reported unusual events should have resulted in litigation. 

What I am saying is that a relatively small percentage of unusual events results in the filing of a lawsuit, and relatively few of them result in a settlement or verdict for the patient.   I also suggest that unusual events are woefully under-reported.  For example, one category of unusual event is "post op wound infection."  It indicates that there were 779 patients who suffered from this unusual event in 2006.  If that is true, then at least 50% of them called me to tell them whether they had a malpractice case.  No – that number is way, way low.