Mutual Matters

Physicians Prone to Medical Liability Claims

Posted by Bill Kanich, MD on Apr 6, 2017 1:00:00 PM


NEJM Study shows 1% of physicians accounted for one-third of all paid claims

A study in the January 2016 New England Journal of Medicine[1] analyzed paid medical liability claims, (an indemnity payment made to an injured party), and the physician’s name was reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) to determine if the characteristics of claim-prone physicians could be identified.

David M. Studdert, LLB, ScD, of Stanford University and his colleagues analyzed 66,426 claims in the NPDB that were paid in the US from 2005 through 2014. Investigators calculated the cumulative distribution of paid claims in two physician populations: doctors with one or more paid claims and all active physicians. 

Key Findings

The biggest predictor for claim-prone doctors was whether they’d had a prior claim. Of all paid claims, 82% involved male physicians. The specialists with the highest total number of paid claims, (not necessarily the highest frequency per individual physician, as there are more physicians in certain specialties), were internists (15%), Ob-Gyns (13%), general surgeons (12%), and family physicians (11%).

Approximately 1% of all physicians accounted for 32% of paid claims. Among those with paid claims, 84% had only one paid claim during the study period (68% of all paid claims), 16% had at least two (32% of the claims), and 4% had at least three (12% of the claims).

The most important implications of these findings is that “frequent flyers are a significant problem, and identifying and remediating them early may help improve the quality of the healthcare system,” said Dr. Studdert. “It suggests that there is some underlying factor that is predisposing certain physicians to malpractice claims. Provision of substandard care is the obvious culprit. Poor communication skills are likely to be another factor in this mix.

Find out more about this study, patient safety commentary regarding the findings and what you can do to avoid these kind of claims. 

Find out more

[1] D. Studdert, LLB., Sc.D., M. Bismark, M.B., Ch.B., L.L.B., M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., H. Singh, Ph.D., M. Spittal, Ph.D. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2016; 374:354-362.


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