Patient advocates dispute AMA conclusions on malpractice study

A new study from the American Medical Association about malpractice lawsuits has an eye-catching statistic: Six out of 10 physicians 55 and older have been sued, according to the AMA. But is it really true?

“Even though the vast majority of claims are dropped or decided in favor of physicians, the understandable fear of meritless lawsuits can influence what specialty of medicine physicians practice, where they practice and when they retire,” AMA Immediate Past President J. James Rohack, MD., said in a statement. “This litigious climate hurts patients’ access to physician care at a time when the nation is working to reduce unnecessary health care costs.”

Patient safety advocates called the report misleading. “Their data, as well as other studies, show that a small percentage of physicians are responsible for the vast majority of malpractice claims,” according to Ray De Lorenzi, spokesman for the American Association for Justice, which represents lawyers who represent patients in lawsuits against doctors and hospitals.

Research has shown that “the vast majority of claims are meritorious and involve real errors,” and those types of errors are not declining, De Lorenzi said. “This reinforces why lawmakers must focus on the 98,000 people that die every year from preventable medical errors, not eliminating the rights of injured patients,” he said.

That figure was popularized by a 1999 Institute of Medicine report, which cited research stating that such medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people each year.

The new AMA study analyzed data from 5,825 physicians who responded to the AMA’s Physician Practice Information survey, which examined costs of medical practice and associated factors from 2007 to 2008. Among the report’s highlights:

* Only 5% of medical liability lawsuits make it to trial. However, defendants won 90% of these cases.

* 42.2% of physicians were sued, with 22.4% sued twice or more.

* General surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists were most likely to be sued (both 69.2%), while pediatricians (22.2%) and psychiatrists (27.3%) were sued the least.

Source: American Medical News
You can view the report from AMA Policy Research Perspectives, entitled “Medical Liability Claim Frequency: A 2007-2008 Snapshot of Physicians” here.

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