Study Looks at Malpractice Claims against Physicians

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) examines the characteristics of doctors who are prone to malpractice claims. Researchers looked at 66,426 malpractice claims paid against 54,099 physicians from 2005 to 2014. Data was obtained using the National Practitioner Data Bank. By identifying doctors who tend to have multiple claims, the authors hope to detect issues at an early stage and improve health care outcomes.

Researchers found that roughly 1 percent of all physicians account for 32 percent of malpractice claims. Among these individuals, 84 percent faced only one claim during the study period, 16 percent had at least two paid claims and 4 percent had at least three claims. In general, findings suggest that doctors who are sued are more likely to face additional claims in the future. The risk of incurring another malpractice claim was three times higher for the 2,160 who already had three paid claims compared to doctors who only had one claim. Additionally, rates of malpractice vary between medical specialties. For instance, neurosurgeons face a four-fold increased risk compared to psychiatrists.

“Over a recent 10-year period, a small number of physicians with distinctive characteristics accounted for a disproportionately large number of paid malpractice claims.” the authors concluded. David M. Studdert, a professor of law and medicine at Stanford and lead author of the study, said “Ninety-four percent of all doctors have no claims,” according to NYT Well blog. “But doctors who accumulate multiple claims are a problem, and a threat to the health care system. Identifying these high-risk doctors is a key first step toward doing something about the problem.”

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