The NY Times reported on a new report that indicates that lawsuits improve the quality of health care because providers learn from their mistakes. "New evidence, however, contradicts the conventional wisdom that malpractice litigation compromises the patient safety movement's call for transparency. In fact, the opposite appears to be occurring: the openness and transparency promoted by patient safety advocates appear to be influencing hospitals' responses to litigation risk."
Lawsuits can also reveal errors that should have been reported but were not — medical providers notoriously underreport errors (although studies have shown that the threat of litigation is not responsible for this underreporting) and lawsuits may fill these gaps.
Experts agree that the best way to reduce medical error is to gather and analyze information about past errors with an eye toward improving future care. Full disclosure and transparency is the best way to improve safety and prevent injury. Several factors appear to have overcome resistance to transparency, including widespread laws requiring disclosure to patients. Hospitals have also found that disclosing errors to patients and offering early settlements reduces the costs and frequency of litigation.