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A Few Doctors Account for a Disproportionate Number of Malpractice Claims

According to a story from National Public Radio, a new study from Stanford researchers shows that a small number of doctors are linked to an outsize share of medical malpractice claims. The study examined 66,000 malpractice claims paid against 54,000 doctors nationwide between 2005 and 2014, and its results may offer guidance on improving patient care by providing insight into how to identify physicians prone to malpractice claims at an early stage.

Characteristics of claim-prone physicians

According to NPR, the study reveals that 1 percent of doctors are linked to a third of malpractice claims. These claim-prone physicians are overwhelmingly male (82 percent), and older. The majority of claims were concentrated among doctors in four practice areas:

  • internal medicine;
  • obstetrics and gynecology;
  • general surgery; and
  • general practice/family medicine.

But one factor stood out for predicting whether a physician was likely to be the subject of a malpractice claim. Overwhelmingly, doctors who had a prior claim against them were more likely to have subsequent claims. Based on the data, a physician who had three previous claims against him was three times more likely to have another claim than a physician who had one previous claim.

The researchers suggest that the risk factors they have identified can help hospitals, healthcare systems, and malpractice insurers pinpoint these claim-prone doctors and improve patient safety. They note, however, that the problem of doctors who accumulate malpractice claims yet continue to practice is a significant one that too few organizations are attempting to address. Going forward, the study’s authors urge additional investigation into predicting which doctors are at risk and then intervening to improve their quality of care.

Medical malpractice in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority is an independent government agency created in 2002 by the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE). The Authority’s purpose is to help reduce medical errors by identifying problems and proposing solutions to promote patient safety. Under the Act, Pennsylvania-licensed hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, birthing centers, and certain abortion facilities are required to report “serious events” and “incidents” to the Authority. A “serious event” is one involving clinical care that causes harm to a patient. In 2011, the Authority disclosed that the number of medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania had been cut in half since MCARE passed in 2002. The Authority proposes that the decline in claims may be attributed to improvements in patient safety.

Nevertheless, in 2014 there were over 1500 medical malpractice claims filed in the state. (See The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania report on Medical Malpractice Filings, here.) On average, since 2010 there have been approximately 400 malpractice filings in Philadelphia County alone.

Reach out to our firm to learn more

The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. are highly skilled and effective at representing clients who have suffered harm caused by medical malpractice. If you or someone you love has been victimized, reach out to us for help. Call today at (215) 567-3500, or contact us online.

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