In a special article published January 28, 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers reports that one percent of all doctors account for 32 percent of all paid malpractice claims.
The authors conclude that the more often a doctor is sued, the more likely it is that he or she will be sued again, according to the New York Times.
The group of researchers analyzed 10 years of paid malpractice claims using the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federal government database that includes 66,426 claims against 54,099 doctors.
Compared to a doctor who had one paid claim, having another claim was twice as likely for a doctor who had two paid claims, four times as likely for a physician who had four, and 12 times as likely for a doctor who had six or more, according to the Times. The risk of recurrence varied widely across specialties, the authors said. Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons were about twice as likely to have a paid claim as internists, while pediatricians were 30 percent less likely to have s paid claim.
After controlling for the number of years a doctor had been in practice, the researchers say doctors under 35 were one-third as likely to have a recurrence as older colleagues, and men had a 38 percent higher risk of recurrence than women.
In their discussion of the results, the authors note that some malpractice claims do not reach the NPDB. Some physicians’ names are “shielded” because the settlement is made in the name of an institutional codefendant. “To the extent that claims were underreported, we will have underestimated the number of physicians who have multiple claims.”
The authors say few institutions “systematically identify and intervene with practitioners who are at high risk for future claims.” Malpractice insurers tackle the problem of claim-prone physicians primarily by raising premiums or terminating coverage. These strategies do not directly address the underlying problems that lead to many claims, the authors say.
The article’s lead author, David M. Studdert, a professor of law and medicine at Stanford University noted, “Ninety-four percent of all doctors have no claims.” “But,” Studdert said, “doctors who accumulate multiple claims are a problem, and a threat to the health care system. Identifying these high-risk doctors is a key first step toward doing something about the problem.”