One Percent of Doctors Cause a Third of All Malpractice Payments
Policy + Politics

One Percent of Doctors Cause a Third of All Malpractice Payments

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By one estimate, more than $24.6 billion has been paid out over the past decade to satisfy medical malpractice cases, frequently involving patients who either died under the knife or incurred significant, life-altering injuries at the hands of their physicians.

Between 2005 and 2014, more than 66,000 medical malpractice cases were brought against 54,000 physicians, according to a national database created by Congress to track all malpractice cases in which the aggrieved patient wound up being paid.

Related: 7 of the Most Outrageous Abuses at VA Medical Centers

Remarkably, about one percent of all physicians in this pool accounted for 32 percent of all the paid claims, according to research published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Moreover, one in five of those physicians were repeat offenders who were forced to pay penalties at least two or three times throughout that period.

One might think that in a litigious era when health care costs are being driven up by medical malpractice suits that a physician  stung by a court verdict or settlement would be extra careful to avoid a repeat of that costly and humiliating experience. Yet the study by Stanford University law professors and the University of Melbourne in Australia concluded that each time a physician was sued, the odds increased that he or she would be sued again.

“For example, as compared with physicians who had one previous paid claim, the 2,160 physicians who had three paid claims had three times the risk of incurring another,” the study noted.

Risks of a recurrence of a medical malpractice suit also varied widely depending on the specialty of the physicians, the researchers found. For instance, “the risk among neurosurgeons was four times as great as the risk among psychiatrists,” according to the report.

Related: Another Big Flaw in Obamacare—Tort Reform

The study found that not only neurosurgeons but also orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists were among the group that faced double to quadruple the risk of being hit with future claims when contrasted with internal medicine physicians.