Small number of physicians linked to many malpractice claims


A substantial share of all malpractice claims in the US is attributable to a small number of physicians, according to a study led by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Melbourne.

The team found that just 1 percent of practicing physicians accounted for 32 percent of paid malpractice claims over a decade. The study also found that claim-prone physicians had a number of distinctive characteristics.

"The fact that these frequent flyers looked quite different from their colleagues, in terms of specialty, gender, age and several other characteristics, was the most exciting finding," said David Studdert, professor of medicine and of law at Stanford. "It suggests that it may be possible to identify high-risk physicians before they accumulate troubling track records, and then do something to stop that happening."

Studdert, who is also a core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy, is the lead author of the study, published January 28 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

"The degree to which the claims were concentrated among a small group of physicians was really striking," added Studdert.

The most important predictor of incurring repeated claims was a physician's claim history. Compared to physicians with only one prior paid claim, physicians who had two paid claims had almost twice the risk of another one; physicians with three paid claims had three times the risk of recurrence; and physicians with six or more paid claims had more than 12 times the risk of recurrence.

"Risk also varied widely according to specialty," the authors noted. "As compared with the risk of recurrence among internal medicine physicians, the risk of recurrence was approximately double among neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, plastic surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists."

The lowest risks of recurrence occurred among psychiatrists and pediatricians.

Male physicians had a 40 percent higher risk of recurrence than female physicians, and the risk of recurrence among physicians younger than 35 was about one-third the risk among their older colleagues, the study found.

"If it turns out to be feasible to predict accurately which physicians are going to become frequent flyers, that is something liability insurers and hospitals would be very interested in doing," Studdert said.

Stanford University, University of Melbourne, Malpractice Claims, Malpractice, US, David Studdert