Malpractice varies in Japan and U.S.

Dec. 1, 2006 at 5:38 PM
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Japanese malpractice cases are criminal acts, compared to U.S. cases handled civilly, but both sides might learn from each other.

So concludes Robert Leflar, a law professor at the University of Arkansas who spent a year at the University of Tokyo School of Law.

Leflar said that the Japanese healthcare industry has weak or non-existent accountability mechanisms that are common in the American system.

Because Japanese peer review and professional discipline structures are weak and there is no mandatory hospital accreditation or objective, hospital-by-hospital statistics on medical treatment outcomes, injured patients go to the police for redress.

To handle these complaints, Japanese prosecutors have legal weapons not available stateside, such as the "professional negligence causing death and injury" charge -- a crime that is not on U.S. statute books -- and sanctions against altering medical records to cover mistakes.

Japanese physicians also pool their medical liability insurance, which has standard rates that do not vary by specialty or geographic location.

"American reformers seeking to link patient safety and improvement of the medico-legal dispute-resolution system may find the Japanese approach instructive," Leflar said.

He added that Japan is trying to set up independent groups of medical specialists to investigate medical accidents more accurately and less expensively than how mishaps are currently handled in the legal system.

Leflar will present his research in Shanghai on Dec. 14 at an international symposium on health issues sponsored by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

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