American Medical Assn Report: Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Are “Frequent”

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Recently, the American Medical Association released the results of a 5,000 doctor survey. Their findings? for every 100 physicians, 95 of them had been sued over the course of their careers.

Not surprisingly, the lawsuit rates varied considerably, depending upon the medical specialty:

Family Practice:   80 claims / 100 physicians
General Internal Medicine:  58 claims / 100 physicians
Internal Medicine sub-specialties: 86 claims / 100 physicians
General Surgery:   213 claims / 100 physicians
Surgical sub-specialties:  170 claims / 100 physicians
Ob/Gyn:    215 claims / 100 physicians
Radiology:    116 claims / 100 physicians
Emergency Medicine:    109 claims / 100 physicians

The bottom-line of the survey was this: “The longer you practice, the more likely you will be sued at some point in your career.”

Valid points all. Now here are a few items they might have mentioned, but didn’t:

These are numbers seriously suspect, coming as they do from a key player in the business of medicine, with a major stake in the volume they purport to be true.

The mitigating circumstances are literally off-the-chart, and profoundly important to the well-being of society as a whole. Here’s why:

1. 500 citizens die while being medically treated, every day of the year. Another 2500 are injured. With this appalling volume of misbehavior, we are surprised more lawsuits aren’t flying around.

2. The National Practitioner Data Bank holds files on 237,000 physicians, an extraordinary number of whom are considered “Dangerous” or “Questionable.” From murder to child molestation, from rape to drug running to insurance theft –  almost exactly 50 doctors are found guilty of egregious misbehavior each week. That’s 2,500 per year.

3. It is doctors – and no one else in society – who gleefully over-prescribe the mind-numbing volume of drugs to the masses, at an ever-increasing rate (Does it concern anyone at all that fully 30% of all Girl Scouts at summer camp are on prescription drugs? Is there any doubt it will rise to 50% at some point in the future?)

4. The watchdog group Public Citizen reports that ‘Med Mal’ lawsuits are, in fact, few & far between. Fewer than 10% of all patients harmed by medical treatment ever bring suit at all. In those cases that are brought to trial, far more than half are won by the physician. Contrary to popular belief, juries tend to side with the medical care provider, unless the injury is practically undisputed. And anyone who thinks it’s a piece of cake to convince an attorney to take on a Med Mal case, well, they just aren’t paying attention.

5. Because of the ‘monster’ million-dollar suits that DO make the headlines, Americans typically suppose these victims are raking in tons of money on zillions of kooky cases. But factually, very, very few patient victories result in much at all.

Now, we are by no means proud of the fact that we live in a country considered “lawsuit crazy” by the rest of the world. But we can say with some confidence that American medical practitioners have brought this plague on themselves.

A last point worth mentioning:

Data from the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA, 2009) underscores the following about those characteristics of the medical liability market in 2008: In fewer than 30% of the cases, was ANY money paid to a patient, or family.

So let’s keep this subject in proper perspective:  in 70% of all medical lawsuit cases – even when the patient is killed as a result of medical mistake – NO money is paid out at all.

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