A study led by a group of physicians at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston reveals that paid medical malpractice claims decreased by 55.7% between 1992-2014. Medical malpractice lawsuits have become the scapegoat for skyrocketing medical and insurance costs but as the study proves, the number of payouts and claims have only fallen. The only catch? The average payment amount went up by 23.3%, as well as the number of $1 million plus payments, meaning that while lawsuits are happening with less frequency, the mistakes they’re seeking to rectify are likely larger than the years prior to the study. What sets this particular study apart is that the authors set out to find what specialities were paying out the most claims with the ultimate goal of using the information to ‘help inform decisions about the approaches needed to simultaneously improve patient safety and reduce liability.”
Pediatricians Seem to Be the Gold Standard
The great news is that all specialist payouts have decreased, with the largest drop seen among pediatricians. From 1992-2014, the number of claims paid by pediatricians fell 75.8%. The number of claims paid by cardiologists fell 13.5%. Neurosurgeons had the highest number of payouts during that period, while dermatologists had the lowest.
In terms of why lawsuits were filed, the most frequent complaints were diagnostic errors (31.8% of paid claims), surgical errors (26.9%) and medication and treatment errors (24.5%).
Does Fear of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Mean Better Care?
The study authors note that lawsuits have a major fear factor for physicians and that the medical community strongly believes this fear has influenced their clinical practice. If this is the case, it is hard to argue that giving victims of medical error an avenue to pursue justice is a bad thing. Playing the blame game with lawsuits and naming them as the cause of outrageous medical costs has been proven time and time again to be false. What does seem to be true is that the very prospect of lawsuits has influenced the medical community to act with more caution and care than in years past.