Almost all, or 90 percent, of general surgeons aged 55 and over have been sued, according to the American Medical Association’s 2007-2008 Physician Practice Information (PPI) survey. This is but one of the alarming statistics in the survey, which examined the frequency of malpractice claims throughout physicians’ careers and lawsuit incidents across medical specialties.
Sixty percent of physicians across all practice areas aged 55 and up reported claims against them. This was attributed to the increased exposure to the possibility of lawsuits over lengthier careers.
“We might find, and I predict we will, that most of us have been the target of meritless, painful accusations that have cost us energy, time, and self-esteem. Not a few bad apples, but the majority of our conscientious, diligent, committed colleagues,” said Dr. George Hossfeld, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago in the January 2009 issue of Emergency Medicine News.
Hossfeld encourages speaking openly about malpractice lawsuits to destigmatize what is becoming a more common experience for doctors.
Dr. Kevin Pho describes being sued for malpractice as very personal, traumatically scarring experience on his blog KevinMD.com. In his USA Today column, he wrote that doctors and hospitals should learn from mistakes in order to improve patient care—a task easier said than done when liability cases are resolved in an adversarial manner.
Despite the adversarial nature of lawsuits during 2008, 65 percent of suits were dropped, 25 percent settled, 4.5 percent were resolved with alternative dispute mechanisms, and 5 percent went to trial, according to data from the Physician Insurers Association of America.
Pediatricians and psychiatrists had the lowest incidents of claims, according to the PPI survey, a contrast to obstetricians and gynecologists, 69 percent of whom had been sued.
Male physicians are sued at a significantly higher rate than female physicians—47 percent versus 24 percent. The survey partially attributes this disparity to a higher concentration of men in medical specialties with more incidents of lawsuits. For example, 24 percent of men versus 15 percent of women are general surgeons, according to the PPI data.