The findings of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine may or may not be comforting to our readers. The study found that just one percent of doctors were behind nearly one-third of malpractice claims paid between the beginning of 2005 and the end of 2014.
The good news may be that these "frequent flyers," as one of the authors of the study termed them, may be able to be identified by health care systems before they commit more acts of medical malpractice since they fit somewhat of a profile. That profile is a male over 35 years old who practices general surgery or internal medicine and has been sued before. Those who practice obstetrics and gynecology were also among those who had the highest number of malpractice claim payouts.
Interestingly, physicians under 35 were significantly less likely to have multiple lawsuits over the period studied than their older peers. Those who had lost multiple malpractice suits were much more likely to lose subsequent ones.
Of the more than 66,000 claims paid, either because of a guilty verdict or settlement, during the decade studied, the largest percentage (38 percent) was for significant physical injury, followed by 32 percent for death. The mean payout was just over $351,000.
Of course, besides the obvious harm caused to patients by doctors who make mistakes or are negligent, they cost hospitals and insurers a significant amount of money each year. One of the study's authors noted that if those doctors "most likely to make life-threatening mistakes" can be identified, institutions might choose to get rid of them, "making them someone else's problem." However, he said that the researchers hope that instead they will use that information "to target measures like peer counseling, retraining, and enhanced supervision."
There are resources where patients can research a physician's history of legal actions taken against him or her for malpractice. Of course, patients aren't always in a position to be able to do that. If you are suing a physician for malpractice, your attorney will undoubtedly look into that doctor's background to determine whether there is a pattern of mistakes or negligence.
Source: Vocativ, "1% Of Doctors Are Guilty Of Nearly A Third Of Medical Malpractice," Joshua A. Krisch, accessed March 02, 2016