About 4000 primary care physicians and selected specialists were surveyed by Medscape in order to find out about the cause and effects of malpractice suits.
Top Reasons Doctors Get Sued
The survey covered areas like, if and why they were sued; the effect on their career and patient care decisions due to the lawsuit; and these doctors were asked to suggest methods to reduce the number of lawsuits. The report shows the long-term effects, both emotional and financial, of malpractice suits on vulnerable doctors.
Have You Ever Been Named in a Malpractice Suit?
The survey showed that 59% of respondents have been named in at least one malpractice suit. While nearly half (47%) were named in the suit along with others, 12% were the only parties sued.
Among the specialties surveyed, some were sued more than others; however, no physicians are immune to malpractice suits.
Percent of Physicians Sued
According to recent studies, the most likely to be sued among all physicians are obstetricians/ gynecologists and surgeons. This was collaborated by the Medscape survey which found that 85% of obstetricians/ gynecologists, 83% of general surgeons, and 79% of orthopedists have been sued.
However, general surgeons and orthopedists had the highest percentage among specialties surveyed of being the only parties named at 23% and 26%, respectively; while obstetricians/ gynecologists came in third at 18%.
Nature of the Lawsuits
Respondents were asked to check as many options as were relevant, to the question about the nature of their lawsuits. The highest numbers of suits (31%) were related to a failure to diagnose and patient suffering abnormal injuries. Failure to treat (12%) came in at third place and was far behind the first two. Less than 5% of respondents cited poor documentation or medication errors (both 4%) or failure to follow safety procedures or obtain informed consent (both 3%).
How Likely Are You to Be Sued By the End of Your Career?
64% of the physicians who responded to this survey had experienced at least one malpractice suit by the time they were 54 years old. With physicians at 60 years of age, this percentage rose to about 80%. However, those who responded to this question, tended to be in specialties that had a higher likelihood of being sued. As one respondent in the Medscape survey wrote, “The older you get, the more you have to lose.”
Are Men More Likely to Be Sued Than Women?
While nearly two thirds (64%) of male respondents were sued as compared to less than half of women (49%); men were also sued more as the only named defendant in a suit (14%) as compared to women (8%).
The study indicated that women are sued less than men, regardless of the specialty.
How Often Does Malpractice Treat Influence Thinking or Action?
54% of physicians, who had been named in a lawsuit, responded that the threat of another lawsuit affects them either always, with every patient (18%) or almost all the time (36%). 19% percent were rarely bothered, unless something went wrong with the patient or there was a trigger event.
The survey found that only 1% was never bothered by the possibility of a lawsuit.
Are Medical Organisations Doing Enough to Reduce Lawsuits
While 24% of physicians felt that medical organizations were active and somewhat successful in reducing lawsuits, the rest felt that these groups were either pretty inactive, or just not doing anything at all.
Best Ways to Discourage Lawsuits
The survey allowed respondents to choose multiple options for best ways to discourage lawsuits. 81% felt that malpractice cases should be screened by a medical panel for its merit, before they can proceed. Roughly about half (48%) believed that cases should be tried before a health court. Among verbal suggestions, unsurprisingly, many urged tort reform. However, by far the most popular suggestion, particularly among male respondents, was to make the losing side pay. A larger number of women respondents as compared to the men mentioned improved communication with patients as a way to discourage lawsuits.
Does “Choosing Wisely” Lead to More Lawsuit?
Over a third (37%) of respondents believe that the Choosing Wisely initiative will lead to more lawsuits as compared to 24% who explicitly believe it will not. The rest are unsure.
When I Learn That a Case Involved Real Errors, I Think…
Most physicians showed sympathy for colleagues who are sued, even in cases that involve actual errors.
While 64% felt that doctors are human and sometimes make mistakes, 41% admitted that some doctors were negligent and incompetent.
I would Sue Another Doctor Whose Error Harmed Me
While over 25% of oncologists, anaesthesiologists, and radiologists would sue a colleague, only 15% of obstetricians/ gynaecologists and 17% of primary care physicians would do so.
Work Setting and Risk for Lawsuit
Malpractice suits in office-based solo practices (70%) or single-specialty groups (64%) were found to be the highest. The second lowest percentage (53%) reported were in office-based multispecialty groups. Surprisingly, the least likely to face lawsuits (47%) were outpatient clinics.
Were You Surprised to Be Sued?
70% of physicians were surprised when they were sued.Around 27% suspected this threat, whileonly 3% were sure that they would be sued. This shows the difference in the perception of malpractice between physicians and patients.
What Would You Have Done Differently?
More than half of the respondents believed that they would not change anything as their work was as per the standard of care.
Would Saying “I’m Sorry” Have Helped?
Most physicians reported that they didn’t say sorry because it wasn’t their fault, or they were among many others named and hadn’t even met the plaintiff. Those who reported that they had expressed sorrow said that it would not have made a difference.
Your Experience of Being Sued
When asked to verbalize their experiences, physicians typically described feelings of betrayal by patients, humiliation, and disillusionment with the legal system. As one physician said, “The evils of human nature on display: greed, dishonesty, corruption. Clever arguments in the court trumps truth.”
Long-term Emotional and Financial Effects of the Lawsuit
While less than half of respondents reported no long-term emotional or financial effects,the malpractice suit had a negative effect on trust for 30% of physicians.Some expressed their desire to improve professional behaviour, more documentation and connecting better with patients. A large number of physicians mentioned long-term anxiety, depression, and suffering in general as fallout of being sued.
Long-term Effects of Being Sued and Tried
Of all of the long-term effects expressed in this survey, perhaps the most disturbing was the negative impact lawsuits have on the physician-patient relationship. Most physicians said that they had stopped trusting patient’s responses to their quality of work.
- Peckham, C. (2015). Medscape Malpractice Report 2015: Why Most Doctors Get Sued.