New Report Suggests Primary Care Physicians More Likely To Be Sued Over Diagnoses

F.J. Thomas

Sarasota, FL ( – In today’s ever changing healthcare landscape, it appears several factors can play a role in whether a physician will be sued for malpractice.

The average malpractice rate per 2016 statistics from the American Medical Association (AMA) is 68 lawsuits for every 100 physicians. Interestingly enough, the AMA data also suggests a correlation between suit risk and age and gender. Older physicians are a higher risk than younger physicians, as physicians over the age of 55 were 40 percent more likely to have a malpractice suit brought against them than physicians aged 40 and under. Female physicians were involved in fewer malpractice suits than male counterparts.

A new Medscape report polled more than 4,300 physicians covering 29 different specialties. Of those surveyed 59 percent had been named in a malpractice suit. The 2013 data showed 9 percent of providers were the only ones named in the suit, however according to the most recent report that percentage has risen to 14 percent.

Specialists had a higher chance of being sued according the report as 62 percent of specialists stated they had been involved in a lawsuit but only 52 percent of primary care providers had been sued.

When compared to other specialties such as urology, emergency medicine, and others, surgeons have the highest risk of being sued, with 85 percent of general surgery providers stating that they had been named in a lawsuit. In comparison, 80 percent of specialist surgeons had been involved in a malpractice lawsuit.

One third of the physicians that had been named in a lawsuit stated that the reason for the case was failure to properly diagnose, or a delayed diagnosis. Specialty was a factor in being sued for failure to diagnosis as 40 percent of primary care providers and 30 percent of specialists were named in lawsuits. Complications from surgery was the next most common reason at 29 percent, followed by poor outcome at 26 percent.

Lack of understanding the medical process was cited by physicians as the most common reason a patient decided to file a lawsuit. Of the providers polled, 71 percent felt that patients did not understand medicine, or the fact that sometimes a bad outcome can occur even with the best of care.

Although 83 percent of the physicians polled felt that the lawsuit was unwarranted, 29 percent felt they could identify the incident that triggered the lawsuit.

Kentucky ranked as the number one state with the most lawsuits at 75 percent, according to the Medscape report. Nevada came in second at 73 percent, followed by Illinois at 71 percent. New Mexico and Indiana tied for fourth with 70 percent.

According to Emergency Physicians Monthly, there are several factors that can affect a state’s malpractice rate. A state’s population demographic, malpractice laws within the state, and general provider patient relations are all contributors to the frequency of lawsuits within a particular state. Interestingly enough, it is believed that state culture is more powerful in many cases than state law.

Around 40 percent of the lawsuits took 1 to 2 years to process. Twenty-seven percent of the lawsuits lasted 3 to 5 years, and 11 percent continued on for more than 5 years.

A third of the lawsuits were settled before the case ever went to trial. Of those that did go to trial, 11 percent of the cases went in favor of the physician, and 11 percent were dismissed.

According to the Medscape report, insurers played a role as to whether or not the case was settled or went to trial. While 40 percent of providers stated that the insurer did not encourage or require settlement, 39 percent were encouraged to settle and 29 percent were required to settle.

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