I received this press release and was depressed by the prevalence of lawsuits filed against doctors in this country. More than 40% of physicians are sued at some point in their careers, and the vast majority of these suits are found to be meritless. If that doesn’t make you want to quit practicing medicine, I don’t know what does.
This kind of litigious climate definitely adds to my stress levels — and makes me fearful of caring for very sick and fragile patients who are likely to have poor outcomes, regardless of what I do. Many of my colleagues practice medicine with one eye always looking over their shoulder, wondering when that one bad apple will take them to court in an attempt at a financial windfall.
In Canada, those who bring frivolous lawsuits to court are responsible for all legal costs. I’d be in favor of having a similar process here to chill the medical malpractice frenzy that’s raising costs and driving physicians out of clinical medicine. Cases of true medical malpractice should be punished and patients’ rights protected — but when so many lawsuits are bogus, it’s time to fight back.
Here’s the AMA’s press release:
WASHINGTON – A new report from the American Medical Association (AMA) paints a bleak picture of physicians’ experiences with medical liability claims and bolsters the case for national and state level reform. A key finding from the report is that, among physicians surveyed by the AMA, there was an average of 95 medical liability claims filed for every 100 physicians, almost one per physician.
The report has data not available anywhere else, including information on medical liability claims’ impact by age, gender and practice arrangement for physicians. Highlights in the report include:
– Nearly 61 percent of physicians age 55 and over have been sued. There is wide variation in the impact of liability claims between specialties.
– The number of claims per 100 physicians was more than five times greater for general surgeons and obstetricians/gynecologists than it was for pediatricians and psychiatrists.
– Before they reach the age of 40, more than 50 percent of obstetricians/gynecologists have already been sued.
– Ninety percent of general surgeons age 55 and over have been sued.
“Even though the vast majority of claims are dropped or decided in favor of physicians, the understandable fear of meritless lawsuits can influence what specialty of medicine physicians practice, where they practice and when they retire,” said AMA Immediate Past-President J. James Rohack, M.D. “This litigious climate hurts patients’ access to physician care at a time when the nation is working to reduce unnecessary health care costs.”
The number of medical liability claims is not an indication of the frequency of medical error, as the physician prevails 90 percent of the time in cases that go to trial. While 65 percent of claims are dropped or dismissed, they are not cost-free. Average defense costs per claim range from a low of over $22,000 among claims that are dropped or dismissed to a high of over $100,000 for cases that go to trial. This leads to increased costs for physicians and patients.
“The AMA supports proven medical liability reforms to lower health care costs and keep physicians caring for patients,” said Dr. Rohack. “The findings in this report validate the need for national and state medical liability reform to rein in our out-of-control system where lawsuits are a matter of when, not if, for physicians.”
The report includes data from the AMA’s 2007-2008 Physician Practice Information survey of patient care physicians and other sources.
**EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was corrected on August 4, 2010.**