Small Number of Physicians Make Large Number of Serious Medical Errors

The overwhelming majority of physicians are well-trained, highly skilled professionals. They are human, however, and they can make mistakes. But it’s recently been shown that a small number of physicians are more likely to make dangerous errors that result in medical malpractice lawsuit compensation to their patients.

A team of researchers reviewed paid medical malpractice claims reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank from 2005 and 2014. The NPDB is a database of medical malpractice payments made across the United States. Almost 65,000 lawsuits were covered in the study, which was published earlier this year in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers determined that 1 percent of U.S. physicians accounted for about one-third of all paid medical malpractice lawsuit claims. Doctors who had three prior paid claims to patients were three times as likely to have another paid claim due to a medical error over the next two years.

One-Third of Medical Errors Resulted in Death of Patients

Of the medical errors reviewed that resulted in compensation, about one-third involved the death of the patient. Slightly over half resulted in significant injury to patients.

The researchers determined about 50 percent of the paid claims for medical errors were generated by physicians in just four practice specialty areas:

  • Internal medicine – 15 percent of paid medical malpractice claims
  • Obstetrics and gynecology – 13 percent
  • General surgery – 12 percent
  • Family medicine – 11 percent

Paid Medical Malpractice Claims in Missouri

These findings echo those of a 2011 study that looked at paid medical malpractice claims from 1991 to 2005. And a report by the State of Missouri for 2014 (the most recent reporting year) cited physicians in OB/GYN, general practice and general surgery as among Missouri doctors with the highest number of paid medical malpractice claims.

The NPDB information is for state licensing boards, hospitals, and other medical organizations. It is not accessible to the general public. And Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog organization, last month filed a lawsuit to close a legal loophole that allows some physicians to evade reporting medical malpractice claims paid on their behalf.

When serious medical mistakes are made, it’s often difficult to uncover what happened and why. If you lost a family member due to a medical error, turn to a medical malpractice attorney to review your case and potential claims for just compensation from those responsible.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.