Eighty percent of clinicians have been sued for malpractice by the time they are over 60 years old, according to a recent Medscape Malpractice Report.
The report was based on information gathered by surveying approximately 4,000 primary care clinicians and specialists to find out “if and why they were sued; how the lawsuit affected their career and patient care decisions; and what these doctors suggest to reduce the number of lawsuits.”
According to the survey, the medical specialties in which clinicians are most often sued include obstetrics/gynecology, surgery, and orthopedics. Of those clinicians sued for malpractice, 70% reported being surprised by the lawsuit. The most common reasons clinicians reported being sued were failure to diagnose (31%) or when a patient had an abnormal injury (31%). Failure to treat came in a distant 3rd at 12%. Male clinicians were more likely to be sued than female clinicians (64% versus 49%).
Of the clinicians who had been sued, more than 50% reported that the lawsuit had affected their thoughts and actions when dealing with other patients. The toll of being sued is great in terms of time and expense: More than one-third of clinicians spent over 40 hours preparing for trial, and 40% of those who were sued spent more than 50 hours in court. Sixty-nine percent of cases last between 1 and 5 years. Only 19% are resolved within a year, and 12% last more than 5 years. For most clinicians, the experience is grueling, even though only one-fifth of the cases ever make it to an actual trial (and of those, only 16% end in a verdict). The majority of the cases were dismissed (41%), and about one-third of the cases were settled prior to trial.
Unlike what most people believe from reading the news, most malpractice lawsuits do not result in large monetary awards. In 51% of the cases reported, there were no monetary awards at all. In 20% of the cases, the awards were less than $100,000, and in 29% of the cases, they were more than $100,000. Only 5% of cases resulted in an award more than a million dollars.
When asked what they would have done differently, 51% of clinicians reported that they had been practicing within the standard of care and that they would not change anything. Better chart documentation (19%) was the number 1 thing clinicians reported that they would do differently. Also making the list of things that clinicians would have done differently were “never taken on this patient” (12%), “would have been more careful in the way I phrased things” (9%), “would have ordered tests that would have ‘covered me’ in case of lawsuit” (8%), and “would have spent more time with patient and family” (6%).
- Peckham C. Medscape Malpractice Report 2015: Why Most Doctors Get Sued. Medscape. http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/public/malpractice-report-2015. Published December 9, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2015.