No-fault compensation for treatment injury in New Zealand: identifying threats to patient safety in primary care

Katharine Wallis, Susan Dovey
BMJ Quality & Safety 2011, 20 (7): 587-91

BACKGROUND: In 2005, the injury compensation legislation in New Zealand was reformed to extend coverage for medical injury removing both 'error' and 'severity' from eligibility criteria. This led to an increase in claiming and claims acceptance rate, thus enlarging the treatment injury claims database. This database provides an unusual 'no-fault' perspective of patient safety events.

METHODS: The authors analysed the first 4 years of primary care treatment injury claims data to identify the type, incidence, severity and cause of injury in primary care.

RESULTS: There were 6007 primary care treatment injury claims; 64% were accepted as treatment injuries. Most claims arose in general practice (62%), and most claimants were female (62%). Most claims were assessed as minor (83%), 12% major, 4% serious and 1% sentinel. Medication caused most injuries (38%) and most serious and sentinel injuries (60%). Dental treatment caused 16% of injuries; injections and vaccinations combined caused 10%; and venepuncture, cryotherapy and ear syringing combined caused 13.5% of injuries, mostly minor. 'Delay in diagnosis' caused few injuries overall (2%), but a disproportionate number of serious and sentinel injuries (16%) and deaths (50%). Spinal/ neck manipulation caused 2% of serious and sentinel injuries.

CONCLUSIONS: New Zealand's no-fault treatment injury claims database provides information about primary care patient safety events from an unusual 'no-fault' perspective. This analysis reinforces previous research identifying medication as a high-risk primary care activity and further identifies other primary care activities (dental care, injections, venepuncture, cryotherapy and ear syringing) as carrying important risks for patient harm.

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