U.S. Doctors Spend Too Much Time Getting Sued

The average physician spends over 10 percent of his or her career consumed in defense of an open malpractice claim. For the average neurosurgeon, that number is 25%—that’s a quarter of a career dealing with the intense emotional stress of defending your reputation and livelihood.

And the majority of those claims close with no payment to the plaintiff. That means the average U.S. physician in every specialty spends a significant portion of his or her career in court defending malpractice claims, but the overwhelming majority of those claims are found to be at best fruitless, and at worst frivolous.

These numbers come from a RAND Corporation objective analysis of the claims database of The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer. According to Richard E. Anderson, MD, FACP, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, these numbers show that our medical malpractice litigation system is broken—and must be fixed.


Active litigation

Doctors face these claims on a regular basis. For example, nearly 20% of neurosurgeons report a claim every single year. That means if you’re an average neurosurgeon, you’ll have a claim every five years.

If you have five neurosurgeons who have been in practice for five years in a room together, it is very likely every one of them will have been sued. More than that, because it takes 3-4 years to close a claim, at any given time, 3 or 4 of them will be in active litigation.


More pressure on an already demanding profession

For doctors like David P. Michelin, MD, MPH, a gynecologic oncologist in Traverse City, Michigan, malpractice lawsuits have a significant impact on personal and professional relationships.

From the moment you’re sued, he says, “everything changes. The malpractice claim begins to affect all aspects of your life. You don’t sleep well. You don’t interact well with family members, friends, or colleagues. You remain dedicated to providing the best possible care, but you find yourself taking a more conservative approach with patients, asking yourself, ‘How might this patient attempt to sue me?’ Or, ‘If I were standing in front of a judge, what evidence would I need to defend what I’m doing?’ You know you did nothing wrong—that the claim against you is unreasonable—which only adds to your frustration and sense of injustice.”

Dr. Michelin faced two trials, spanning 2½ years, for a single claim. Although he was exonerated by the jury, it was only after a long period of uncertainty: “Because of the length of my litigation, this significantly impacted my family over two successive Christmases—times when I wasn’t really there for them emotionally.”

Learn the strategies Dr. Michelin used to cope with the stress of litigation and hear more about his trial experience:

This post was sponsored by The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer.

Tags: legal, patient safety, practice management, risk management

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