A landmark report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1999 estimated that medical errors caused as many as 98,000 deaths in the United States each year—more than breast cancer or motor vehicle accidents. According to more recent estimates, millions are harmed each year by errors such as giving the wrong medication or dose, performing the wrong surgical procedure, or using contaminated medical equipment.
Traditionally, medical error has been dealt with in the courts, but the legal system is a poor solution to the problem. For one thing, the fear of lawsuits discourages doctors and medical institutions from speaking openly and giving patients and their families the truthful and complete information they deserve after a known or suspected mistake. In addition, because award formulas are based on lost income and earning potential and plaintiffs’ attorneys are paid out of awards, those attorneys are not inclined to represent people with little or no income, no matter how great the harm they may have suffered.