10 things to know about medical malpractice

Most physicians have faced a medical malpractice lawsuit over the course of their careers. Here are 10 things to know about medical malpractice.

1. Overall, the number of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of physicians has decreased consistently over the last decade, showing a slight increase in 2013 only, according to analysis by Statista.1 Here are the numbers of medical malpractice payments made from 2003 to 2013:

•    2003 — 15,230
•    2004 — 14,367
•    2005 — 13,992
•    2006 — 12,475
•    2007 — 11,459
•    2008 — 11,001
•    2009 — 10,715
•    2010 — 10,160
•    2011 — 9,749
•    2012 — 9,370
•    2013 —  9,677

2. A recently released Meritt Hawkins survey found that the number of malpractice cases in a region is among the top nine things residents consider when making a decision about where to practice.

3. Between 2004 and 2014, there were 154,621 medical malpractice payments in the United States, according to data from the National Practitioner Data Bank. New York had the highest number of payments in that decade with 21,359, while California had the second highest with 15,964.2

4. Male physicians had 2.5 times the odds of medico-legal action compared to female physicians, according to a study published in BMC Medicine. The study authors included 32 reports examining the association between physicians' sex and medico-legal action in their systematic review. Of the 32 reports, 27 found male physicians were more likely to have experienced at least one medico-legal action than female physicians.

5. Nearly half of physicians (43.8 percent) say that they have been threatened with a medical malpractice lawsuit, according to Physicians Practice's 2015 Great American Physician Survey. Around 32 percent say they have been the defendant in a malpractice lawsuit. Additionally, 44.6 percent of physicians claim they have ordered tests or procedures that were probably not medically necessary just to avoid a potential lawsuit.3

6. Most physicians pay up to $7,000 per year for malpractice insurance, according to Physicians Practice's 2014 Physician Compensation Survey. Here are five statistics on annual malpractice insurance payments:

•    Up to $7,000 — 45.4 percent
•    More than $7,000 and less than $10,000 — 22.2 percent
•    More than $10,000 and less than $15,000 — 17.9 percent
•    More than $15,000 and less than $20,000 — 9.4 percent
•    More than $20,000 — 5.1 percent

7. Malpractice payments also vary in accordance with specialty. According to a RAND report, around 88 percent of physicians in high-risk specialties report having a malpractice claim by the age of 45 years old. For example, neurosurgery malpractice payments reach a median average of $225,000. The mean average is around $325,000. Comparatively, orthopedic surgeons face a median average of nearly $100,000 malpractice payments. The mean average is around $225,000.

8. A 2003 article published in BUMC Proceedings examined why patients are dissatisfied with their healthcare to such a degree that they feel compelled to file a lawsuit.4 The four predominant reasons prompting patients to file a lawsuit include:

•    A desire to prevent a similar (bad) incident from happening again
•    A need for an explanation as to how and why an injury happened
•    A desire for financial compensation to make up for actual losses, pain and suffering or to provide future care for the injured patient
•    A desire to hold doctors accountable for their actions

9. There is a widespread inconsistency in malpractice settlement agreements, even within a single institution. A JAMA Internal Medicine study found that settlement agreements made by the University of Texas System often included a nondisclosure scope that was broader than necessary. Some settlements prohibited reporting to regulatory agencies, which the health system changed in response to their findings and every nondisclosure clauses prohibited disclosing settlement term amounts.

10. In March, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to provide new protections for physicians against medical malpractice lawsuits. The provision stipulates that providers, patients and lawyers are barred from using the federal standards and scores generated by the bill to prove negligence in malpractice cases.


1Statistica report
2National Practitioner Data Bank report
3Physicians Practice's 2015 Great American Physician Survey
4BUMC Proceedings report

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