How can so few doctors be responsible for so many malpractice lawsuits?
Most of us are familiar with the large number of malpractice cases in the United States. This high number is the reason that doctors in this country have to pay such tremendous fees for malpractice insurance. The cost is, of course, passed on to the patient consumers. What is not as commonly known, however, is that just one out of every 100 U.S. doctors is responsible for 32 percent of the malpractice claims that result in payments to patients. This information has been reported after a comprehensive research study that examined 15 years worth of cases.
Chief author of the study, David Studdert of Stanford University in California reported that he thought most people would be surprised at the “extent to which the claims are concentrated within a relatively small group of practitioners. It’s actually more concentrated than in earlier studies.” It turns out that when a doctor has to pay out one claim, there is a fairly good chance that the same physician will soon have to pay out another. Why, one may ask, are doctors with bad track records allowed to continue practicing medicine? Clearly, this is another aspect of our “broken healthcare system.”
Reasons this Recent Study is More Meaningful than Previous Research
While earlier studies included any and all malpractice claims, some of which were undoubtedly frivolous, this study limited itself to cases in which payments were made to patients, either through successful lawsuits or through out-of-court settlements. In these cases, therefore, it may be assumed that there was strong evidence of malpractice on the part of the physician.
Also, previous studies have usually focused on a single insurer or a single state, meaning that practitioners may have relocated or changed insurance carriers to avoid being tracked. While it is well-known that physicians in certain specialties, particularly anesthesiology and neurology, face a higher risk of malpractice claims, this study demonstrates that even within such high-risk specialties, malpractice claims are fairly concentrated. As Dr. Anupam Jena, associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School put it: “a strong predictor of subsequent claims is a prior history of malpractice claims.”
Crunching the Numbers
The study in questions analyzed 66,426 claims paid against 54,099 doctors from 2005 to 2014. Almost all were out-of-court settlements and almost a third were cases brought as the result of a patient fatality. Amazingly, about 1 percent of physicians had at least two paid claims against them, accounting for 32 percent of total paid claims. One-hundred twenty-six doctors had more than five paid claims against them! The median payment was almost $205,000.
Physicians who had two lawsuits in which money was paid out were twice as likely to have a third successful payout against them as doctors who had only one such indiscretion. Alarmingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, doctors for whom more than five claims had been paid were 12 times more likely to have a subsequent claim paid on their behalf. Female physicians are 38 percent less likely than their male colleagues to have a second payout made on their behalf , but many other factors may be at play here, including the ratio of female to male physicians and the percentage of female doctors in the specialties with the highest risk of malpractice accusations.
All of these statistics make it clear that changes have to be made to lower the incidence of malpractice in this country and that patients should perform their due diligence in checking out doctors they consult. If you or a loved one has suffered malpractice, you should promptly get in touch with an attorney who is an expert in malpractice law.