The fact that a small percentage of doctors are responsible for a significant amount of medical malpractice cases is one of those things that, unfortunately, makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Until now there wasn’t a ton of concrete evidence or data to support the theory. However, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that of all the successful medical malpractice lawsuit (those that are won by the plaintiff and ultimately paid out) almost a third (32%) were at the hands of just 1% of doctors.
According to CBS News, the researchers behind this new study believe these results will help hospitals, doctors offices, and other medical facilities identify and help manage “at-risk” physicians before they negligently harm someone again. Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), behind heart disease and cancer.
“I think a lot of liability insurers and health care organizations have not taken that analytical step to really understand who these folks are,” said David Studdert, professor of medicine and of law at Stanford University and coauthor on the study. “These frequent flyers looked quite different from their colleagues — in terms of specialty, gender, age and several other characteristics.”
Over 66,000 successful medical malpractice lawsuits from between January 2005 and December 2014 — paid out by settlement or guilty verdict and totaling $24.6 billion — were examined in the study. Unsurprisingly, the biggest factor researchers found for predicting future slip-ups was past ones. Physicians with two or more claims against them — just 1% of all doctors — accounted for 32% of such cases. Overall, only 6% of all active doctors had paid out a claim against them in their careers.
There are some people, though, like David Sousa, chief operating officer and general counsel of Medical Mutual in Raleigh, N.C., which insures some 13,000 doctors in 22 states, who say that while the data might be new, nothing really new was learned. The real question is what can the healthcare industry do to fix it?
“It is a very reasonable question to ask why it’s possible to accumulate four or five paid claims in a 10-year period and continue to practice [medicine],” Studdert said. “We don’t know the answer to that question.”