Among specialties with a high risk of a malpractice claim, nearly all physicians will have a malpractice claim by the time they turn 65 years of age, but the likelihood of litigation is much greater for neurosurgeons than it is for psychiatrists and about three out of every four malpractice claims are resolved with no payment to the plaintiffs. Even among lower-risk specialties, 75% of physicians will have a malpractice claim before reaching retirement age. So what gives? What about insurance?

Researchers examined data on 40,916 physicians covered by a single liability insurer for at least one year from 1991 to 2005. The physicians came from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The analysis included 25 specialties, including an “other” category. The most common were anesthesiology, family general practice, and internal medicine.

The proportion of physicians who had a malpractice claim each year varied widely by specialty. The highest annual rates were in neurosurgery (19.1%), thoracic-cardiovascular surgery (18.9%), and general surgery (15.3%). The lowest were in psychiatry (2.6%), pediatrics (3.1%), and family medicine (5.2%).

However from a monetary standpoint and after careful database examination of a large professional liability insurer, calculated that each year 7.4% of physicians across specialties had any malpractice claim and 1.6% had a claim that resulted in an indemnity payment.

Amitabh Chandra, PhD, of Harvard University explains further:

“Although these annual rates of paid claims are low, the annual and career risks of any malpractice claim are high, suggesting that the risk of being sued alone may create a tangible fear among physicians. Physicians can insure against indemnity payments through malpractice insurance, but they cannot insure against the indirect costs of litigation, such as time, stress, added work, and reputational damage. This finding suggests under-reporting by physicians in low-risk specialties, perhaps because these physicians did not report a claim or because those with previous claims were less likely to respond to the survey. Such a trend could be because the stigma of a claim is worse in specialties in which such claims are less common or because recall bias is more severe for rare events.”

For those former patients that are in fact getting paid, the mean indemnity payment was $274,887, ranging from $117,832 for dermatology to $520,924 for pediatrics.

Well what about malpractice insurance you ask? Well here’s the skinny:

Malpractice insurance is purchased by professionals, most often medical professionals, to financially cover them in the event they are sued for malpractice. Malpractice is technically the act of causing damage or injury to a person or persons as a result of negligently performing a professional duty or intentional wrongdoing. Doctors, surgeons, nurses, and most other medical professionals are sometimes required to purchase malpractice insurance, also called personal liability insurance, before becoming employed by a facility or opening a private practice.

Though the medical field is the most common market for malpractice insurance, other fields may require personal liability or malpractice insurance as well.

Malpractice insurance is designed primarily to provide medical professionals protection from lawsuits, though there are other personal coverages provided with most policies. A malpractice insurance policy will cover the insured up to values of several million dollars. However, the amount of necessary coverage varies from state to state, as different statutes apply to malpractice law in different areas.

When most people think of malpractice insurance, they think of doctors, especially surgeons and obstetricians, who are most frequently sued by patients. Though such doctors may have higher malpractice insurance premiums than others, they aren’t the only ones who benefit from coverage.

Dentists, nurses, therapists, optometrists, and even diagnostic laboratories are required to carry malpractice insurance. Schools that provide education in the medical field with training involving hands-on clinicals must also carry malpractice insurance to cover their faculty and students.

So with all this coverage, why aren’t claims being paid out? More investigation regarding the implementation of law by courts is pending.

Written by Sy Kraft