More than Half of U.S. Doctors Have Faced Malpractice Lawsuits, Survey Finds

If you're a doctor practicing medicine in the U.S., there's a good chance you will face a lawsuit during your career.

Source: Fierce Healthcare | Published on November 16, 2017

Shot of a friendly doctor consulting with his patient in the clinic

A majority (55%) of U.S. physicians said they have been sued, according to Medscape's physician malpractice report for 2017. Among the doctors who had been sued, more than half faced more than one lawsuit.

The report was based on a survey of 4,000 doctors across more than 25 specialties. The 2017 survey found a 15% increase in malpractice suits since Medscape's last report was published in 2013.

The following are some of the other survey findings:

  • Specialists, particularly surgeons (85%) and obstetrician/gynecologists (85%), were far more likely to be sued than primary care doctors. Psychiatrists (29%) and dermatologists (28%) were the specialties least named in lawsuits.
  • Malpractice insurance premiums vary based on those specialties. Premiums paid by doctors in New York City ranged from upwards of $200,000 per year for an obstetrician/gynecologist to about $38,000 for an internist.
  • The top three reasons why patients filed suit were failure to diagnose a patient's condition or a delayed diagnosis (31%), complications arising from treatment or surgery (27%) and poor outcome/disease progression (24%).
  • Lawsuits also caught doctors off-guard, as 58% said they were surprised when named in a lawsuit. An overwhelming majority (89%) said the lawsuit was unwarranted. Thirty percent of doctors said their lawsuit was settled before trial.
  • Monetary payouts can be substantial. Some 68% of doctors said plaintiffs received up to $500,000 and 17% reported plaintiffs received up to $1 million.

To avoid a lawsuit in the first place, Rick Boothman, chief risk officer at the University of Michigan Health System and a malpractice defense attorney, suggested that physicians demonstrate to patients and their family that they care.

For example, after a poor outcome, don't avoid a patient or his or her family. A sincere apology also goes a long way.