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Study Shows Physicians Spend 11 Percent of Career With Unresolved Malpractice Claim

January 17, 2013

A study published in the January 2013 issue of Health Affairs found that the average physician spends 50.7 months, or 11 percent, of their career with an unresolved, open malpractice claim, an allegation of malpractice against a physician and a request for compensation.

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The study looked at data from 40,916 physicians covered by a large, physician-owned liability insurer with insured physicians in every U.S. state and Washington, D.C., that had malpractice claims closed between 1995 and 2005. Results showed the mean claim took 20.3 months to be resolved (25 percent: 7.0 months; 75 percent: 28.3 months), and the mean time from the incident date and the date the claim was filed was 22.8 months. "Putting these data together, the average claim was not resolved until forty-three months after the incident," note the authors. Further, the average physician was found to spend 50.7 months (10.6 percent) of an estimated forty-year career with an unresolved malpractice claim.

The authors note that "the length of the [malpractice system] process stems from multiple factors, including the difficulty of distinguishing negligent care (malpractice) from appropriate care in complex medical cases, the lengthy discovery process required to determine which physician defendants were potentially involved in malpractice and their specific roles, and the length of trials and settlement proceedings."

Moving forward, the authors note that "a fuller understanding of how time to resolution of malpractice claims is affected by various malpractice reforms is important to reducing cost and inefficiency in the malpractice system."

"It is a national disgrace that physicians must bear the enormous cost and disruption of protracted litigation when the vast majority of cases are without merit," said Richard E. Anderson, MD, chair and CEO of The Doctors Company. "This is powerful evidence of the need for national tort reform."

Meanwhile, the ACC is partnering with The Doctor's Company on the first ever national program tailored to cardiologists and targeted at reducing risk and premiums specifically for cardiovascular teams. Members participating in the program benefit in a number of ways, including:

  • A claims free credit (with rates based on jurisdiction),
  • Five percent program discount with a favorable claims history,
  • Five percent for MOC participation, and
  • Five percent for participation in the PINNACLE Registry®.

"The most important tenet in approaching the malpractice issue is prevention of events that might lead to claims," said Richard A. Chazal, MD, FACC. "The best possible quality care to patients is paramount to physicians. Secondarily, the impact of such claims to professionals (and thus to care) is a crucial matter. The ACC, through its educational programs and clinical practice guidelines is aggressively seeking to continually improve the care delivered to patients. Further, in partnership with The Doctor's Company, ACC is embarking on the first ever national program tailored to cardiologists and targeted at reducing risk by identifying potential areas for improved care and changes in process."


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