More than half of providers have been sued for malpractice—but the likelihood of facing a legal challenge varies significantly by specialty, according to Medscape's Malpractice Report 2017.
Here's your cheat sheet for understanding health care's legal landscape
For the report, Medscape surveyed 4,137 physicians across more than 25 specialties between Aug. 25 and Oct. 6. Overall, the survey found that 55% of respondents said they had been sued for malpractice, a 15% increase since Medscape's previous malpractice report in 2013.
According to Medscape, specialists were more likely than primary care physicians (PCPs) to be sued for medical malpractice. The survey found that 13% of specialists said they had been sued individually, while 50% said they had been named in a lawsuit with multiple defendants. In comparison, 11% of PCPs said they had been sued individually, and 41% said they had been sued as part of a group of physicians.
The rate of medical malpractice lawsuits also varied substantially among specialties. The top 10 specialties most likely to be sued, according to the survey, were:
Meanwhile, only 29% of psychiatrists and 28% of dermatologists said they had been sued, making them the specialties least likely to be named in a malpractice lawsuit, according to the survey.
Accordingly, the survey found that the specialties most commonly sued tended to have the highest malpractice insurance premiums. For instance, in New York, a general surgeon might have an annual malpractice insurance premium of $141,600, while an internist might pay only $37,800.
Among all physicians who reported being sued for medical malpractice, 49% said they had been sued between two and five times over the course of their career. Those physicians included PCPs (18%), surgeons (11%), and OB-GYNs (11%).
The survey also identified the most common reasons for medical malpractice lawsuits among all respondents:
The survey also identified the most common outcomes among providers who had been sued:
The survey also found that most plaintiffs received a financial award, with:
Four percent of respondents reported that the plaintiff did not receive a monetary reward.
According to the survey, almost half of physicians who had been involved in a medical malpractice lawsuit said the experience did not change how they viewed patients or health care. However, 26% said the suits affected the doctor-patient relationship, while 6% left the practice setting. An additional 3% said they decided to change their insurer and 2% said they bought more malpractice insurance.
According to the survey, most physicians involved in a malpractice lawsuit (83%) do not believe that apologizing would have made a difference, while 15% said they weren't sure. Two percent said they believed it would have made a difference.
The survey also asked physicians what they thought would be the most effective way to deter a future lawsuit. According to the survey:
With MACRA, HIPAA, the ACA, and countless others, the health care landscape has become an alphabet soup of legislation. To help you keep up, we've created a series of cheat sheets for some of the most important—and complicated—legal landmarks.
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