Yep, You’re Going to Be Sued

August 5, 2010

New research by the AMA indicates that if you are a physician, you are pretty much going to be sued. Oh, and if you are in certain specialties, you will definitely get sued. And if you are an older, male physician, boy are you going to get sued.

New research by the AMA indicates that if you are a physician, you are pretty much going to be sued. Oh, and if you are in certain specialties, you will definitely get sued. And if you are an older, male physician, boy are you going to get sued.

The new report, including data from the association’s 2007-2008 Physician Practice Information survey, indicates that among those who responded, there was an average of 95 medical liability claims per every 100 physicians - almost one lawsuit per doctor.

Diving further into the data, male physicians had twice as many suits filed against them and twice as many career claims than their female counterparts, according to the data. Specialties also drove lawsuit likelihood, with the number of claims per 100 physicians more than five times greater for general surgeons and OB/GYN docs than it was for pediatricians and psychiatrists, who had the lowest incidence of claims.

Age is also a factor, the survey indicated, with the AMA breaking physicians into three categories: under age 40; between 40 and 54; and over the age of 55. While 15 percent of the first group reported claims, 60.5 percent of physicians over age 55 reported claims against them. The AMA notes, however, that medical liability claims are more common among older physicians as they have been in the field longer.

So we’ve covered age, gender, and specialty, but let’s not forget what kind of practice you are in.

According to the AMA data, 45 percent of physicians providing care in a solo or single-specialty group practice were sued, compared to those working in a hospital and multi-specialty group practice, who reported claim percentages of 40 and 37 respectively.

Still reading? Good, because here comes a little bit of good news.

With all that gloom and doom comes a little light. According to data from the Physician Insurers of America, physicians prevail in 90 percent of the medical liability claims against them. Sixty-five percent of the cases are dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn; 25.7 percent are settled, 4.5 percent decided by an alternative dispute mechanism; and 5 percent resolved by trial.

So, let’s recap. The odds are in your favor that you’ll be sued, but also in your favor that you’ll win.
What’s not in your favor, however, is defending yourself from these suits. The AMA reports that average defense costs per claim were $40,649, with the range of a low end of around $22,000 to the high end of just over $100,000 for tried cases.

The data, the AMA says, points out two key issues: one, the fear of lawsuits can drive young doctors to choose a less “risky” specialty of medicine; and two, the need for reform is clear.

In a statement, the AMA’s past-president, J. James Rohack, MD, said the organization “supports proven medical liability reforms to lower healthcare costs and keep physicians caring for patients.” Furthermore, the report, Rohack said, “validates 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.”

Now we know there are ways to try and prevent a suit, but we also know that you are being more and more cautious when it comes to patient care.

So is the panacea tort reform? Is it better communication between physician and others regarding “necessary” testing? What about patient education?

The AMA has pretty much given you a guarantee that you are going to be sued – so what are you going to do about it?