Malpractice claims are a dreaded but rare fact of the practice of medicine—but not so rare if you’ve already been sued, researchers have found.
A recent study suggests that a small share of physicians account for the majority of malpractice suits in the United States. How small? Roughly 1% of all doctors were involved in a whopping 32% of paid claims, the study, reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, found (2016;374:354-362). The chances of being sued rose with the number of prior suits, so that physicians involved in three paid claims had triple the risk for having another paid claim over the next two years. That worked out to a 24% absolute risk, the authors reported.
The study looked at 66,426 malpractice claims among 54,099 U.S. physicians in the National Practitioner Data Bank that occurred between 2005 and 2014. Internal medicine physicians were most likely to be involved in recurrent paid claims, followed by neurosurgeons, orthopedists and general surgeons. Pediatricians and psychiatrists were least likely, the study found.
“In an environment in which a small minority of physicians with multiple claims accounts for a substantial share of all claims, an ability to reliably predict who is at high risk for further claims could be very useful,” the authors wrote. If such predictions are possible, they added, “our hope is that liability insurers and health care organizations would use the information constructively, by collaborating on interventions to address risks posed by claim-prone physicians (e.g., peer counseling, training and supervision). It could present an exciting opportunity for the liability and risk-management enterprises to join the mainstream of efforts to improve quality.”