Accountability sought by patients following adverse events from medical care: the New Zealand experience

Bismark, Marie; Dauer, Edward; Paterson, Ron; Studdert, David
October 2006
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;10/10/2006, Vol. 175 Issue 8, p889
Academic Journal
Background: Unlike Canada's medical malpractice system, patients in New Zealand who are dissatisfied with the quality of their care may choose between 2 well-established medicolegal paths: one leads to monetary compensation and the other to nonmonetary forms of accountability. We compared the forms of accountability sought by patients and families in New Zealand who took different types of legal action following a medical injury. This study offers insights into the forms of accountability sought by injured patients and may help to inform tort-reform initiatives. Methods: We reviewed compensation claims submitted to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), New Zealand's national no-fault insurer, following injuries associated with admission to a public hospital in 1998 (n= 582). We also reviewed complaint letters ( n= 254) submitted to the national Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) that same year to determine the forms of accountability sought by injured patients. We used univariable and multivariable analyses to compare sociodemographic and socioeconomic characteristics of patients who sought nonmonetary forms of accountability with those of patients who claimed compensation. Results: Of 154 injured patients whose complaints were sufficiently detailed to allow coding, 50% sought corrective action to prevent similar harm to future patients (45% system change, 6% review of involved clinician's competence) and 40% wanted more satisfying communication (34% explanation, 10% apology). The odds that patients would seek compensation were significantly increased if they were in their prime working years (aged between 30 and 64 years) (odds ratio [OR] 1.66, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.14-2.41) or had a permanent disability as a result of their injury (OR 1.75, 95% CI 1.14-2.70). When injuries resulted in death, the odds of a compensation claim to the ACC were about one-eighth those of a complaint to the HDC (OR 0.13, 95% CI 0.08-0.23). Interpretation: Injured patients who pursue medicolegal action seek various forms of accountability. Compensation is important to some, especially when economic losses are substantial (e.g., with injury during prime working years or severe nonfatal injuries). However, others have purely nonmonetary goals, and ensuring alternative options for redress would be an efficient and effective response to their needs.


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