Study: Half of doctors sued by age 55


By age 55, nearly half of physicians have been sued for malpractice, with general surgeons and obstetricians-gynecologists facing the highest lawsuit risks, according to data from the America Medical Association.

Investigators with the AMA surveyed 3,500 postresidency physicians who were not employed by the federal government. Findings show that the probability of getting sued increases with age, and that male doctors are more likely to be sued than female physicians. For example, only 8% of doctors under 40 have been sued, compared to nearly half of physicians over age 54, the study found. In addition, nearly 40% of male physicians have been sued over the course of their careers, compared with 23% of female doctors.

Percentage of physicians sued for malpractice by specialty
Lawsuit risk widely varies by specialty. General surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists are four times more likely to be sued than are pediatricians and psychiatrists. Sixty-four percent of ob.gyns. and 63% of surgeons were sued at least once during their careers and 63% of surgeons were sued at least once, while 16% of psychiatrists and 18% of pediatricians faced at least one claim during their careers, according to the analysis.

Employed physicians were no more or less likely than were physician-owners to have been sued. In addition, while solo practitioners had more claims filed against them than did doctors in single-specialty groups, the estimate was not statistically significant.

In a second report, an analysis showed the average expense incurred during a medical liability claim is $54,165 – a 65% increase since 2006. For the study, the AMA analyzed data from PIAA, a trade association for the medical professional liability insurance industry, and evaluated payments, expenses, and claim disposition within a sample of 90,473 medical liability claims that closed between 2006 and 2015.

Dr. David O. Barbe, president of the American Medical Association

Dr. David O. Barbe

Results show that in 2015, 68% of all closed claims were dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn. However, each claim cost an average of $30,475 to defend, accounting for more than one-third of total expenses incurred, the analysis found.

Only 7% of claims were decided by a trial verdict with the vast majority (88%) won by the defendant health care provider. In about 25% of claims, a payment was paid to the plaintiff. The average indemnity payment to a plaintiff was $365,503 and the median payment was $200,000.

The new research paints a bleak picture of physicians’ experiences with medical liability claims and the associated cost burdens on the health system, AMA President David O. Barbe, MD, said in a statement.

“Even though the vast majority of claims are dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn, the heavy cost associated with a litigious climate takes a significant financial toll on our health care system when the nation is working to reduce unnecessary health care costs,” Dr. Barbe said.

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