Study Finds That 1% of Doctors are Responsible for 32% of Medical Malpractice Payouts

tedaviRegardless of the amount of money paid, a recent study from Stanford University researchers found that almost one-third of all medical malpractice claims paid out between 2005 and 2014 stemmed from just 1% of doctors, according to a piece from Vocativ.

The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that there are certain characteristics that many in this group of doctors share that healthcare systems might be able to use to help them identify and reduce the problem going forward.

“These frequent flyers looked quite different from their colleagues — in terms of specialty, gender, age and several other characteristics,” said David Studdert, professor of medicine and of law at Stanford University and coauthor on the study, in a prepared statement. “It suggests that it may be possible to identify high-risk physicians before they accumulate troubling track records, and then do something to stop that happening.”

The fact of the matter is the majority of doctors are not negligent, but that doesn’t change the fact that medical malpractice is still a big concern in this country. Overall, approximately 15,000 to 20,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are brought against U.S. doctors every year, according to one study cited in the piece.

For the study, researchers examined the 66,426 malpractice claims that were paid out (either through settlement or a guilty verdict) against physicians between January 2005 and December 2014. These medical malpractice statistics came from the U.S. National Practitioner Data Bank.

While, of course, it is an oversimplification of the problem, the study found that the most likely candidate for a successful malpractice lawsuit is a male over the age of 35 who’s already had a lawsuit against him and works in internal medicine or general surgery. It kind of seems like common sense, but the study found that the chance of a doctor having another medical malpractice lawsuit increased significantly along with the number of previous cases against him.

“While it’s certainly not always true, we have found that the majority of the doctors we bring cases against are less well trained, less knowledgeable and often were unable to ever pass their board certification exams,” said Joseph Lichtenstein, Law Offices of Joseph M Lichtenstein. “Yet they hold themselves out as specialists nonetheless, leaving unsuspecting patients to assume they have the same training and credentials as true specialists. So one change I would recommend is to prevent those who fail their board exams from holding themselves out as specialists.”

“One option is to kick out the high-risk clinicians, essentially making them someone else’s problem,” Studdert said. “Our hope is that the knowledge would be used in a more constructive way, to target measures like peer counseling, retraining, and enhanced supervision.”