According to a 2016 report from the Washington Post, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 250,000 lives lost each year. Patients and their families file tens of thousands of medical malpractice claims against healthcare providers every year.
But what happens to the doctors who make mistakes that cost patients their health, or worse yet, their lives? Multiple Studies in the past 20 years have found alarming evidence that providers with one claim against them are likely to have multiple future claims. This could mean that doctors don’t really face consequences after paying out a claim.
We can’t give you hard numbers regarding how often doctors are held accountable for malpractice as healthcare facilities and institutions understandably don’t like to publicize it. We can, however, give you an overview of the studies conducted by medical professionals to inform the public of what’s really going on in the world of medical malpractice.
What Does Accountability Mean for Medical Malpractice Claims?
Accountability for doctors who face valid medical malpractice claims would ideally involve:
- Having to pay out these claims
- Investigation from the medical board that certified their credentials
- Possible suspension, probation, or other disciplines from the medical board
- Losing a license to practice for extreme negligence or recklessness
However, it doesn’t seem like many doctors face these consequences that might otherwise protect future patients from harm. In fact, data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) shows that only one-third of doctors who had multiple medical malpractice claims against them were actually disciplined by their state medical boards.
Further, a 2016 report from Reuters revealed that just 1% of U.S. doctors were responsible for nearly one-third of all medical malpractice claims. Other reports support the notion that a small number of “repeat offenders” make up a large portion of all medical malpractice claims. This data suggests that doctors who face medical malpractice claims are more likely to face future claims and that they never were properly held accountable for their mistakes.
Issues in Holding Doctors Accountable
A 2022 review published by the National Library of Medicine explains the issues that affect a facility — and the healthcare system as a whole — in being able to properly investigate and address medical errors as well as hold practitioners responsible. These issues include:
- A culture of “non-reporting:” This systemic culture enables practitioners to hide medical errors rather than report them. This saves the reputation of the practitioner and the facility they work in. It’s also to avoid disciplinary action, like a suspended license.
- Factors outside the practitioner’s control: A hospital or practice may be purposely understaffed as a way to keep costs low and profits high. This can lead to overwork and fatigue that increases the likelihood of mistakes, injuries to patients, and thus, malpractice claims.
The 2022 article reveals that there is a need to change the current “blame-shame-discipline” framework to one that focuses on “prevention and education” to promote honesty in reporting errors, improve patient outcomes, and reduce the number of malpractice claims overall.
Trends in the Rate of Medical Malpractice Claims
According to a 2017 study in the National Library of Medicine, the number of successful medical malpractice claims decreased between 1992 and 2014. But the average compensation amount for successful claims has gone up, as has the number of successful claims over $1 million.
This suggests that medical malpractice cases have become more complex, meaning you’re more likely to win when you have a strong legal claim. But it also means that the award you could win for a malpractice claim has increased, likely due to an increase in claims for serious injuries. In fact, the aforementioned Reuters article revealed that one-third of the 66,426 claims between 2005 and 2014 were initiated because the patient died of complications from a medical error.
Factors That Influence Likelihood of a Doctor Having Malpractice Claims Against Them
Studies have not confirmed a direct correlation between certain factors and whether a doctor is going to be sued. But there are some “risk factors” that seem to make it more likely that a doctor would face a medical malpractice claim.
Many studies already mentioned, as well as a 2017 review published by the American Medical Association (AMA), state that a doctor’s age seems to be the biggest indicator for medical malpractice claims. This doesn’t mean that an older doctor is necessarily more likely to make a mistake — rather, the older they are, the more exposure they have to medical malpractice claims.
Another factor the AMA review explored was gender. The review found that nearly 40% of male doctors were sued, while just under 23% of female doctors had claims.
However, another part of the study found that gender doesn’t indicate that men are more likely to be sued than women, so much as medical specialties. Physicians in certain “higher-risk” specialties (more often pursued by men) are more likely to face medical malpractice claims due to the complexity of their care, not necessarily their gender, which accounts for the earlier significant difference.
Types of Doctors More Likely to Have Malpractice Claims Against Them
According to the AMA review and other sources, these are the most common medical specialties to face malpractice claims:
- General surgery
- Emergency medicine
- Colon/rectal surgery
- Orthopedic surgery
- Plastic surgery
- Internal medicine
- Family medicine and general practice
Get Help With Your Medical Malpractice Claim
At De Castroverde Accident & Injury Lawyers, we know how much it means for victims of medical malpractice and their families to get justice. Our Las Vegas personal injury lawyer can help you hold doctors and medical facilities accountable for their negligence. When you work with a Nevada personal injury lawyer from our firm, you can pursue much-needed compensation and fight to prevent future harm to patients.