Malpractice Cases Gobble 11% of Doctors' Time

Joe Cantlupe, January 17, 2013

Physicians are perpetually rushed. They have to see patients, learn how to use electronic medical records systems, and figure out the political vagaries of their own healthcare establishments. And that's all before lunch.

In the back of their minds or, in the worst case, the forefront, there's another nagging day-to-day concern: malpractice. Physicians spend a lot of time dealing with malpractice cases. And I mean a lot.

A Health Affairs report this month offers a startling stat: Doctors spend on average, nearly 11% of their time over a typical 40-year career with an "unresolved, open malpractice claim."


"You hear horror stories about the court system and how long it might take to resolve cases," the lead study author, Seth Seabury, a senior economist at RAND Corp told me. "One of the things that surprised us was, over the course of an entire career, how much [of a doctor's time] was spent on unresolved claims. Having a claim outstanding and unresolved, that hangs over someone's head."

Specifically, the RAND researchers analyzed data from 40,916 physicians covered by a nationwide insurer. They found that, over a presumed 40-year career, the average doc spends more than 4 years, or about 50 months of his or her time, with an unresolved malpractice claim.

Seabury, who is also associate director of the RAND center for health and safety in the workplace, and his colleagues analyzed the time physicians spent with open claims, and its impact on specialties, the severity of injuries, and whether malpractice was eventually found. The claims analyzed were from between 1995 and 2005.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter


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