Malpractice Threat to Physicians Pervasive, AMA Study Finds
August 5, 2010 — More than 42% of physicians have been sued for medical malpractice at some point in their careers, and more than 20% were sued at least twice, according to a new American Medical Association (AMA) report.
An average of 95 claims were filed for every 100 physicians — almost 1 per physician — the AMA's Physician Practice Information survey of 5825 physicians, fielded in 2007 and 2008, found.
Despite the pervasive threat of litigation across 42 different specialties surveyed, two thirds of claims are dropped or dismissed, and physicians prevail 90% of the time in cases that go to trial, the study found. Still, the costs to physicians in terms of malpractice premiums and to the entire healthcare system resulting from the practice of defensive medicine are quite high. Average defense costs per claim range from a low of $22,000 among claims that are dropped or dismissed to a high of more than $100,000 for cases that go to trial.
"Even though the vast majority of claims are dropped or decided in favor of physicians, the understandable fear of meritless lawsuits can influence how and where physicians practice, when they retire, and how often they practice wasteful defensive medicine," AMA Immediate Past-President J. James Rohack, MD, told Medscape Medical News. "This litigious climate hurts patients' access to physician care at a time when the nation is working to reduce unnecessary healthcare costs.
"Unfortunately, there are no real surprises in this study for us," said Dr. Rohack, a cardiologist in Temple, Texas. "It reconfirms the need for a solution to our current tort system. If the nation is ever going to control the rise in healthcare costs, we have to eliminate wasteful defensive medicine spending."
Other highlights in the report include:
- Nearly 61% of physicians aged 55 years and older have been sued.
- There is wide variation in the effect of liability claims between specialties. The number of claims per 100 physicians was more than 5 times greater for general surgeons and obstetricians/gynecologists than it was for pediatricians and psychiatrists.
- Before they reach the age of 40 years, more than 50% of obstetricians/gynecologists have already been sued.
- Ninety percent of general surgeons aged 55 years and older have been sued.