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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2013 Feb 20;95(4):e201-8. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.K.01272.

Lessons regarding the safety of orthopaedic patient care: an analysis of four hundred and sixty-four closed malpractice claims.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center, Box 356500, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195-6500, USA.



An orthopaedic malpractice claim alleges that the patient sustained a preventable iatrogenic injury. The analysis of a representative series of malpractice claims provides a unique view of alleged orthopaedic adverse events, revealing what can potentially go wrong across a spectrum of practice settings and anatomic locations. The goal of this study was to identify high-impact targets in order to institute measures to reduce claims through efforts focused on patient safety.


The authors investigated 464 consecutive closed malpractice claims from the nation's largest insurer of medical liability. We analyzed the claims by anatomical site, type of care rendered, type of allegation, and payment. We calculated an "impact factor" for each claim type by dividing the percentage of total payments for each type by the percentage of total claims for that type.


Our analysis revealed major concerns regarding patient safety within this series of malpractice claims. One-third of the claims alleged permanent disabling injuries, including amputations, brain damage, and major nerve damage. The highest impact allegations were failure to protect structures in the surgical field (41% of total payments to plaintiffs, 15% of all claims, impact factor of 2.7) and failure to prevent, diagnose, and/or treat complications of treatment (16% of total payments, 7% of all claims, impact factor of 2.3). Spine procedures had high impact (1.9), representing 28% of dollars paid and 15% of claims, with 45% of spine claims involving death or severe permanent injury. Failure of implant positioning was commonly alleged in hip and knee arthroplasty. In claims related to fracture care, the most common allegations were related to malunions, nonunions, dislocations, failure to protect structures in the surgical field, infection, and treatment complications. Total payment for the eighty-eight claims paid was $17,917,614 (U.S. dollars adjusted to 2009).


Regarding clinical relevance, this analysis suggests risk areas for targeted efforts to improve patient safety and reduce malpractice claims.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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