Does Denmark’s medical malpractice system offer clues to how the United States can improve its system? According to watchdog group Pro Publica, yes.
For the past 3 years, the group has interviewed injured patients and their family members in Denmark to examine the country’s medical malpractice system and understand why it seems to be working so much better than the United States’. “The Danish system offers lessons for policymakers in the United States, where medical harm remains widespread and the mechanisms for addressing it are often cumbersome and adversarial,” wrote the authors of the ProPublica article.
In 1992, Denmark overhauled its lawsuit-based approach to handling medical malpractice cases and switched to a compensation program similar to those in Norway and Sweden. Unlike the United States’ system, these programs provide information and compensation to patients regardless of whether negligence is involved. This system, which avoids pitting clinicians against patients, enables a more open discussion of safety and mistakes.
In Denmark, there is no cost to file a claim. The hospital or clinician is required to file a detailed response, and patients have access to their medical records and a detailed description of the medical reviewers’ decisions. A caseworker is assigned to each patient to help them through the process, and all information is available to patients and their families through an online portal. According to ProPublica, “compensation is awarded if reviewers determine the care could have been better, or if the patient experienced a rare and severe complication that was more extensive than the patient should reasonably have to endure.”
The average claim paid in Denmark is about $30,000, a fraction of the typical award amount in American lawsuits. However, it has been estimated that more than 7 times as many claims are filed per capita in Denmark, and about 4 times as many patients receive some award when compared with the United States.