Specialists, particularly surgeons (85%) and Ob/Gyns (85%), were far more likely to be sued than primary care doctors. Psychiatrists (29%) and dermatologists (28%) were the specialists named least frequently in lawsuits.
More than half (55%) of physicians responding to a Medscape survey say they’ve been sued for malpractice at least once in their career, and many say that experience changed their attitudes toward their patients.
The findings represent a 15% increase in malpractice suits over Medscape’s 2013 Malpractice Report.
“We really need to do something about this,” said Hansa Bhargava, MD, senior medical correspondent for Medscape. “We’re talking about the costs of medicine, and we know how much healthcare costs per capita, but we still have this system where there are a lot of lawsuits.”
Failure to diagnose a patient’s condition or complications arising from treatment were the most common reasons that patients sued, the survey found.
Medscape received more than 4,000 responses from physicians across 25 specialties and found that specialists, particularly surgeons (85%) and Ob/Gyns (85%), were far more likely to be sued than primary care doctors. Psychiatrists (29%) and dermatologists (28%) were the specialists named least frequently in lawsuits.
Accordingly, malpractice insurance premiums range from nearly $200,000 annually for a New York City Ob-Gyn, to about $38,000 for an internist.
Being the subject of a malpractice suit took 58% of physicians by surprise and 51% said the experience changed their attitudes towards patients; 26% say they no longer trust patients or treat them differently, such as practicing defensive medicine; 6% left the practice setting, and 3% changed insurers, the survey found.
“I was surprised with how only 26% of doctors say they no longer trust patients,” Bhargava said. “Being sued, and especially since a lot of these lawsuits are either dismissed or settled out of court, can be a very scarring experience, especially if you aren’t at fault, which speaks to the fact that most physicians go into the profession because they truly want to help patients.”
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.