A recent report indicates that a relatively small number of physicians seem to bear responsibility for a large percentage of medical malpractice claims. The data showed that roughly 2% of doctors were defendants in approximately 39% of these claims. The report also showed that physicians who have paid claims are now less likely to relocate to another state as they had in the past. Those with multiple paid medical malpractice claims are now much more likely to continue their career in a solo or small group practice.
Likelihood of Claims
Doctors that practice in certain specialties such as emergency medicine, OB/GYN, and surgery are among the most likely to face claims of medical malpractice. The New England Journal of Medicine studied how physicians with paid claims of malpractice tend to respond. They used the National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks information reported by the medical licensing agencies at the state level. Over a 10-year span, approximately 6% of doctors had a paid malpractice claim; however, 0.2% of them accounted for 12% of all paid claims.
The Medicare Data on Provider Practice and Specialty is also now a good source of claims-related information. This resource showed that over 90% of doctors who have had five or more paid claims are still practicing. Data from this source also confirmed that fewer physicians with paid claims were moving to other states then they did in the past. Physician licensing is conducted at the state level. In the past, many states did not properly share information; therefore, a physician with a paid malpractice claim could essentially move to obtain a “clean slate.”
National Practitioner Database (NPDB)
Congress created the NPDB in 1986 to be a centralized location for housing information regarding health care practitioners. Now that the majority of states diligently submit their information to this database, it has become a valuable source. The general public is not able to access the information. Individual medical providers or institutions such as hospitals are able to access their own data upon request.
Trends Among Specialties
The majority of physicians will be the subject of a claim for medical malpractice at some point in their career. Specialists are clearly more likely than primary care providers to be sued. OB/GYNS and surgeons are the most commonly sued and also pay the highest annual malpractice insurance premiums. Another key factor involves the area or region that the physician practices. There are variances it what may be called the “medical malpractice climate.”
There are several factors that contribute to a region’s “climate” for medical malpractice. For example, some states require that plaintiffs initially obtain the signature from a medical expert that essentially confirms that the claim has some validity. Some states have limitations or caps on the damages that may be awarded and often this serves as a deterrent for filing cases.
Comparison Between Specialties
Average Yearly Premium Range
Median Indemnity Payment
Mean Indemnity Payment
$85,000 – $200,000
$6,000 – $30,000
$8,000 – $50,000