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High Cumulative Malpractice Risk for All Physicians

Last Updated: August 18, 2011.

Physicians in all specialties have a high cumulative risk of facing a malpractice claim by age 65; although most claims do not lead to indemnity payments, according to a study published in the Aug. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

THURSDAY, Aug. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians in all specialties have a high cumulative risk of facing a malpractice claim by age 65; although most claims do not lead to indemnity payments, according to a study published in the Aug. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Anupam B. Jena, M.D., Ph.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues investigated the proportion of physicians facing malpractice claims in a year, the proportion of claims leading to payment to a plaintiff, the size of indemnity payments, and the cumulative career malpractice risk in high- and low-risk specialties. Data were collected for 40,916 physicians covered by a professional liability insurer from 1991 through 2005, including 233,738 physician-years of coverage and 25 specialties.

The investigators found that 7.4 percent of physicians had a malpractice claim, but only 1.6 percent of those resulted in payment for each year of the study period. The proportion of physicians with a malpractice claim each year varied according to specialty: neurosurgery, 19.1 percent; thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, 18.9 percent; general surgery, 15.3 percent; family medicine, 5.2 percent; pediatrics, 3.1 percent; and psychiatry, 2.6 percent. The mean indemnity payment across specialties was $274,887 and the median was $111,749, with mean payments ranging from $117,832 for dermatology to $520,923 for pediatrics. By age 65, 75 percent of the physicians in low-risk specialties and 99 percent in high-risk specialties faced a claim.

"The cumulative risk of facing a malpractice claim is high in all specialties, although most claims do not lead to payments to plaintiffs," the authors write.

The research was supported by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice; one author disclosed a financial relationship with the Institute.

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