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In What Medical Specialty is Medical Malpractice Most Common?

Medscape recently released the results of its survey of 1400 physicians who were sued, and the results may be surprising to some but informative for all. For instance, though emergency room mistakes the headlines, emergency medicine was toward the bottom of the list of sued medical specialties.

In fact, more than half of all lawsuits filed related to what the doctor failed to do, rather than a mistake in what the care they actually provided, according to Physicians Weekly. “Failure to diagnose” was the most common reason for a malpractice suit, with 35 percent of lawsuits stemming from this claim. Another 17 percent were sued for “failure to treat.”

The survey also provided insight into the success of lawsuits. Cases dismissed prior to the doctor being deposed accounted for 24 percent of the suits. Twenty-one percent went to trial. More than 60 percent of the litigation took more than two years to conclude.

As for resolutions, the plaintiff failed to recover any award in 57 percent of the cases. Awards of $100,000 or less accounted for 18 percent of the suits, while awards of $2 million or more accounted for two percent. In nearly all the cases, the insurer paid the full amount of the award.

Surprisingly, only 29 percent said they treat their patients any differently or view them with distrust following the lawsuit. And 62% of the physicians thought the outcome of litigation was fair. When asked whether simply saying, “I’m sorry,” would have helped avoid the animosity of a lawsuit, 93 percent said yes.

Finally, the ten medical specialties that experienced the highest volume of lawsuits were:

Internal medicine, 15%; Family medicine, 13%, Ob/Gyn, 9%; Psychiatry, 8%; Pediatrics, 5%; Emergency medicine, 4%; Oncology, 4%; Anesthesiology, 3%; Endocrinology, 3%; General surgery, 3%; Orthopedics, 3%.

In order to avoid future mistakes, doctors taking the survey advised other doctors to follow up with patients even when they didn’t think it was necessary, practice more defensive medicine and document more of their actions. Lastly, doctors suggested dropping their rude, demanding and noncompliant patients.