Healthcare News & Insights

Which doctors at your facility have the highest risk of being sued?

Guess what two medical specialties are the most likely to be sued for medical malpractice?

If you said OB-GYNs, you got one correct.

Here’s a hint about the second group: You’d be hard pressed to find a hospital without them. 

Answer: general surgeons.

But OB-GYNs and general surgeons aren’t alone. Out of the 4,137 physicians over 25 specialties who participated in Medscape’s survey for its Malpractice Report 2017, more than half (55%) have been named in a malpractice lawsuit personally or as part of a group.

While OB-GYNs & women’s health specialists, and general surgeons both reported that 85% of their respective groups had been sued, the other groups that rounded out the top 10 specialists most often sued, included:

  • otolaryngologists (78%)
  • urologists (77%)
  • orthopedists (76%)
  • plastic surgeons and specialists in aesthetic medicine (73%)
  • radiologists (70%)
  • emergency medicine specialists (65%)
  • gastroenterologists (62%), and
  • anesthesiologists (61%).

These groups also tended to have the highest malpractice premiums.

And, unfortunately, many of the physician were involved in more than one malpractice lawsuit:

  • 49% of respondents were involved with two to five lawsuits
  • 5% were involved with six to nine lawsuits, and
  • 2% were involved in 10 or more lawsuits.

The majority (89%) of the physicians in the study who were involved in a malpractice lawsuit felt they were unwarranted.

The top 5 reasons for the lawsuits were:

  1. failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis (31%)
  2. treatment or surgery-related complications (27%)
  3. poor outcomes or progression of illness (24%)
  4. failure to treat or delayed care (17%)
  5. wrongful death (16%)

So how can the physicians avoid malpractice lawsuits?

  1. Cultivate a healthy and open relationship with their patients. That doesn’t mean they must become their patients new best friend or spend hours on end with them, but physicians should be friendly, ask questions and listen to their patients’ fears and concerns, learn from them and give honest feedback.
  2. Provide clear and concise documentation. Every step of care and medical decision making needs to be documented so that it’s unambiguous. Documentation that’s incomplete or inadequate can open them up to malpractice lawsuits.
    Physicians also need to make sure they date, time stamp and sign each entry. And when in doubt whether something is important enough to be document, err on the side of caution and document it.
  3. Manage expectations. Physicians can manage their patients’ expectations by being 100% honest and keeping the lines of communication open. Patients need to know step by step what is going on, when it’s going to happen, possible outcomes, etc.
  4. Show empathy. Doctors need to put themselves in their patients’ shoes. If something is annoying to your physicians, like not having a reply to a call or email in a timely fashion, it’ll probably annoy patients too. Having physicians step into their patients’ shoes and see things through their eyes will help them identify better with their patients and help build a beneficial patient/physician relationship.
  5. Ask for help. Physicians at your facility study long and hard to learn everything they can about their specialty. But no one person knows it all. If something is perplexing encourage the physicians at your facility to ask for help, such as asking for a colleague’s opinion. But no matter what, encourage your doctors not to go it alone when in doubt.

As far as the survey goes, the top three most effective ways to prevent future lawsuits were:

  • improve communication and rapport with patients (53%)
  • have cases reviewed by a medical panel (53%), and
  • cap noneconomic damages (53%).




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