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Medical Malpractice Claims Are Not Rampant: What the Medical Journal Data Shows

Medical Malpractice Claims Are Not Rampant: What the Medical Journal Data Shows

The public is urged to believe that medical malpractice claims command huge verdicts and are a rampant problem. But evidence gathered by the New England Journal of Evidence is to the contrary 1. The study included physicians from all 50 states, with an average age of physicians in all specialty areas was 49 years. Anesthesiology, family general practice, and internal medicine, combined, accounted for 36% of the total 40,916 physicians included in the study.

First, about 1 in 15 physicians had a claim. Of these claims, about 80% resulted in no payment of any sum to settle, or as a result of a judgment. This means that only 1 in 75 physicians had a claim that resulted in a payment of any amount to a patient.

Physicians most likely to face a medical malpractice claim during each year of the study were for the following specialties:

  • Neurosurgery = 19%
  • Thoracic - cardiovascular surgery = 19%
  • General surgery = 15%

These medical specialties were also considered as belonging to the high-risk malpractice claim category:

  • Plastic surgery = 13%
  • Orthopedic surgery = 13%
  • Gastroenterology = 12%
  • Obstetrics and gynecology = 11%
  • Pulmonary medicine = 9%
  • Oncology = 9%
  • Cardiology = 8%
  • Neurology = 8%
  • Internal medicine = 8%
  • Emergency medicine = 8%

The lowest annual risk for a malpractice claim were for physicians in the following specialty areas of practice:

  • Family medicine = 5%
  • Pediatrics = 3%
  • Psychiatry = 2.6%

The average payment was nearly $275,000; the medial payment was about $112,000. Indemnity payments exceeding $1 million were less than 1% of all payments.

Specialties most likely to face malpractice claims did not make the largest payouts. For example, neurosurgeons were about 6 times more likely to be sued than pediatricians, but the average payment for neurosurgeons ($345,000) was significantly below the average payment for pediatricians ($521,000).

This data reveals that about 80% of medical doctors will face one malpractice claim during his or her career to age 65, but very few will result in payments to patients. In the thousands and thousands of patient contacts a physician experiences in a career, this cannot be seen as unreasonable or improbable.

The data also makes it clear that the legal system is not clogged with malpractice claims and the claims are not runaways before juries.

Propaganda to the contrary should be discounted as false and misleading.

1 New England Journal of Medicine 2011 Aug 18; 365(7):629 36. aN article, entitled "Malpractice Risk
According to Physician Specialty", was published in the August 18, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of
Medicine. It summarizes a study of closed malpractice claims from a large liability insurer for nearly 41,000 U.S.-based physicians who were covered for at least one policy year from 1991 though 2005.

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