The American Medical Association released a report surveying over 5,000 doctors between 2007 and 2008. The result: An average of 95 lawsuit claims were filed for every 100 physicians. That’s an average of almost one per doctor. Just under 50% were sued at some point in their career. 20% were sued two or more times.
And the doctor’s specialty determined the career suit rate:
General and family practice: 80 claims / 100 physicians
General internal medicine: 58 claims / 100 physicians
Internal medicine subspecialties: 86 claims / 100 physicians
General surgery: 213 claims / 100 physicians
Surgical subspecialties: 170 claims / 100 physicians
Ob/Gyn: 215 claims / 100 physicians
Radiology: 116 claims / 100 physicians
ER Medicine: 109 claims / 100 physicians
The longer you practice, the more likely you will have been sued over your career.
Those aged 55 or older: 60.5% of doctors have been sued
Those aged 40-54: 45.3% of doctors have been sued
Practice long enough and you will receive a summons. Data from the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA, 2009) suggest the following about those characteristics of the medical liability market in 2008: In under 30% of the cases, money was paid to plaintiff. Put a different way, no money was paid out over 70% of the time. Many are being sued, but the system fails in efficiently identifying those patients who deserve a timely settlement.
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In the first place, these numbers are 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.
In the second place, the mitigating circumstances are statistically off the chart, and profoundly important to the well-being of society as a whole. And a few of those factors are these:
1. 500 citizens die while being medically treated, every day of the year. You didn’t hear THAT during the 2-year Health Care Reform chatter, did you?
2. The Nat’l Practitioner Data Bank holds files on 237,000 physicians, 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.
3. It is doctors – and no one else in society – who gleefully overprescribe 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.
I am by no means proud of the fact that I live in a country considered “lawsuit crazy” by the rest of the world. But I can say with some confidence that American medical practitioners have brought this plague on themselves.
We reap what we sow.
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