MALPRACTICE UPDATE….The Wall Street Journal has a terrific article today about how one group of doctors has successfully decreased their malpractice premiums over the past couple of decades. Their secret? Less malpractice:

Rather than pushing for laws that would protect them against patient lawsuits…anesthesiologists focused on improving patient safety. Their theory: Less harm to patients would mean fewer lawsuits.

….All this has helped save lives….Malpractice payments involving the nation’s 30,000 anesthesiologists are down, too, and anesthesiologists typically pay some of the smallest malpractice premiums around. That’s a huge change from when they were considered among the riskiest doctors to insure.

….Twenty years ago, little was known about people injured or killed during anesthesia. No U.S. database existed, so anesthesiologists set out to create one. They decided to collect information from insurers on closed malpractice claims, those in which insurers had made a payment or otherwise disposed of the complaint.

Most insurers hesitated to cooperate at first, saying they were worried about patient privacy. One company finally agreed: St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. in Minnesota said it was concerned about heavy losses it had suffered from anesthesia-related injuries and was eager for anesthesiologists to review claims. Soon, other insurers followed suit.

Anesthesiologists left their practices for days at a time to pore over closed insurance claims. The information they collected was fed into a computer at the University of Washington to create an overall picture of how anesthesia accidents tend to occur. It “was a humbling experience,” recalls Russell T. Wall, an anesthesiology professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. To date, more than 6,400 claims have been analyzed.

There’s more to the story, and this isn’t the sole answer to fixing America’s malpractice problems. Still, if doctors and insurance companies spent half as much time trying to reduce medical errors as they did trying to rig the legal system in their favor, they might save lives and reduce malpractice premiums. I don’t really expect insurance companies to care much about this, but doctors ought to.