A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that just 2.3 percent of over 480,000 U.S. physicians accounted for 38.8 percent of paid medical malpractice claims from 2003 through 2015. In other words, an incredibly small percentage of physicians with poor malpractice records are posing a disproportionately high risk to patient safety.
This backs up the findings of a 2016 study that found that one percent of 54,000 physicians accounted for nearly one in three paid insurance claims between 2005 through 2014. As the number of paid claims a physician has increases, the likelihood of incurring another goes up as well. Physicians with three paid claims are three times more likely to incur another claim than physicians with a single previous claim.
The more recent study also found that physicians with multiple malpractice claims are more likely to shift into smaller practice settings. In fact, physicians with five or more claims are twice as likely to move onto a solo practice as physicians with no claims against them. Solo practices and smaller groups have less oversight than larger practices, which could lead to dangerous doctors having even worse patient outcomes.
The general public is also less likely to seek out information about previous lawsuits than an employer, meaning some patients are walking in unaware of their physician’s poor safety record. On top of that, over 90 percent of physicians with five or more claims continue to practice medicine.
These studies highlight the need for improvements in the medical malpractice system to improve patient care quality. One suggestion is for licensing boards to flag and address physicians with a certain number of claims filed against them. Professor of law and medicine at Stanford University David Studdert acknowledges these systematic failures, saying that “boards tend to focus on wrongdoing in particular instances, rather than looking at the bigger picture. There are sound legal reasons for doing that, but it doesn’t jibe well with how we think about quality of care outside the law.”
While medical malpractice cases may not be at the top of the news every day, it continues to be a serious problem that cannot be ignored. If you or a loved one has suffered due to the medical malpractice of a negligent physician, reach out to us today at 617-391-9001 or fill out our online contact form for a free legal consultation.
A partner at Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP in Boston, J. Tucker Merrigan represents individual clients throughout all of Massachusetts and the United States—concentrating his practice on cases that involve personal injury, defective medical devices, dangerous drugs, wrongful death, premises liability, products liability, medical malpractice, and insurance law. Known for strong client relationships and positive results, Merrigan has been named a Top 40 Under 40 Trial Attorney by National Trial Lawyers from 2015-2018 and named Super Lawyer Rising Star for 2018.