Few doctors are sanctioned and researchers suggest action should be taken to protect patients from unsafe care delivered by outliers.
This article was updated on January 18, 2017 for clarification purposes.
Fewer than 2% of all physicians practicing over a 25-year study period ending in 2015 were responsible for half of all malpractice dollars paid out, a total of more than $41 billion, according to a new look at the data.
At the same time, only a small percentage of those whose data was reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) lost clinical privileges or were subject to action by licensing boards. The results of the study, which was led by a former associate director for research and disputes at NPDB, were published online by the Journal of Patient Safety.
The study relied on the NPDB's public use file.
The analysis supports earlier findings that looked at ten years of NPDB data. That Stanford study, released a year ago, found that 1% of doctors were responsible for 32% of paid claims.
Both studies found that doctors who paid multiple claims were more likely to pay additional claims than those who paid once.
The authors of the new study suggest that action needs to be taken to protect patients from unsafe care delivered by "outlier physicians."
The findings emerge at a time when the federal approach to malpractice is likely to shift with the incoming Republican administration. While changes to medical liability rules tend to occur at the state level, health regulators in the Obama administration have seen malpractice as reflection of quality of care.
The Affordable Care Act included a $25 million Patient Safety and Medical Liability (PSML) initiative. The AHRQ notes that the program reflects "the view that medical liability and patient safety are fundamentally linked."
Tinker Ready is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.