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Physician Lawsuits Not Uncommon, AMA Says

Christopher Cheney, for HealthLeaders Media, August 27, 2010

For every 100 physicians, there are 95 medical lawsuits, according to a report from the American Medical Association. With nearly an overall average of one liability claim per physician, the report calls for tort reform for lower healthcare costs.

Why is it that physicians, at some point in their careers, will face the dreaded 'L'-word—lawsuit? What factors might make a physician likely to face a malpractice claim?

The report gathers data from more than 5,800 physicians in 42 specialties between 2007 and 2008. The report indicates that some physicians face medical liability claims more often than others. In reality, only 42% of all physicians are sued during their career. That means, 22% of physicians are sued more than once.

Despite the overwhelming statistics on overall claim incidence, a lawsuit is not as common as it seems.

"?In any given year, being sued is a rare event. Only 5% of physicians had claims filed against them in that time frame. Over the length of a career, however, claims are much more common," states the report.

Physicians might see more lawsuits because the longer they are in practice, they have more time and, therefore, greater exposure to malpractice claims. For instance, older physicians are more likely to face a claim because they are in practice longer than younger physicians; nearly 61% of physicians age 55 and over have ever been sued.

Along with age, claim frequency varied by gender, specialty, and practice ownership. For example, male physicians are twice as likely to be sued more than women. There could be a number of reasons of why men face malpractice claims more often then women. Men have traditionally been the medical workforce longer and work more hours per week than women; therefore, men have a longer time to accumulate claims, according to the report. Male physicians are also more often practice owners, compared to women; practice owners see more claims than nonpractice owners. Men also tend to specialize in general surgery and obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN), two the highest accumulated incidence of lawsuits of all the specialties.

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