Just 1% of Physicians Pay 33% of Malpractice Claims

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Malpractice ClaimsA first of its kind study into physician malpractice payments has found a small subset of doctors is responsible for a large chunk of paid claims. Just one percent of active physicians within the U.S. are responsible for a third of paid claims across the entire country. In addition to shedding insight onto which physicians are more likely to have to make payments, the study also offers the potential to predict which doctors are at-risk of further paid claims.

Although research has been done in the past that attempts to parse insights from malpractice data, the available studies are either outdated or only make use of information from a single insurance company or state. This new study is unique in that it was national in scope and took data from across the entire country. In total, the researchers looked at roughly 67,000 paid malpractice claims against over 54,000 physicians that took place between 2005 and 2014. The study did not attempt to determine whether the claims in question had merit, only that they resulted in payment.

The total amount of all these claims is in itself impressive. A combined $24.6 resulted from a mixture of settlements and courtroom verdicts with an average payout of $371,000. Of the claims, around 30% involved patient deaths while 54% involved what was deemed a “major” or “significant” physical injury suffered by the patient.

When compared to doctors who had only a single paid claim, those with two paid claims were twice as likely to have a third. Those with three claims were three times as at-risk of getting a fourth, and those with six or more had over 12 times the risk. Unfortunately, the parameters of the study make it impossible to determine from the findings whether these doctors were actually bad at their job or if they were otherwise simply more likely to be claimed against.

Certain commonalities were able to be found among at-risk physicians however. Higher levels of risk were identified among males, physicians over age 35, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, and obstetrician-gynecologists. This finding of at-risk specialties is not inherently surprising since they have anecdotally been considered more risky among other doctors. The reason is because, with surgeons or childbirth, the patient is liable to feel the injury more strongly (physically or emotionally) if something goes wrong.

Ideally, this study’s findings could be used to develop a means of predicting a physician’s risk of having a malpractice claim against them. These at-risk doctors could then be offered additional training or counseling so that they are less likely to experience future claims.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Prevalence and Characteristics of Physicians Prone to Malpractice Claims.,” National Institute of Health, January 28, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26816012.