Fact: There are between 15,000 and 19,000 malpractice suits against US doctors annually

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice refers to profesional negligence by a health care professional or provider in which treatment provided was substandard, and caused harm, injury or death to a patient. In the majority of cases, the medical malpractice or negligence involved a medical error, possibly in diagnosis, medication dosage, health management, treatment or aftercare. The error may have been because nothing was done (an act of omission), or a negligent act.

Medical malpractice law provides a way for patients to recover compensation from any harms resulting from sub-standard treatment. The standards and regulations for medical malpractice differ slightly from country-to-country; even within some countries, jurisdictions may have varying medical malpractice laws.

A hospital, doctor or other health care professional is not liable for all the harms a patient might suffer. They are only legally responsible for harm or injuries that resulted from their deviating from the quality of care that a competent doctor would normally provide in similar situations, and which resulted in harm or injury for the patient.

How common is medical malpractice?

According to a HealthGrades Patient Safety In Hospitals Study, about 195,000 patients in the United States die each year from preventable in-hospital medical errors. The authors added that out of 37 million Medicare hospitalizations from 2000 to 2002, there were 1.14 million patient-safety incidents.

There are between 15,000 and 19,000 malpractice suits against US doctors annually.

Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco reported in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) that sexual misconduct and prescribing to patients without any established clinical relationship are among the most common violations of professionalism by physicians in the United States.

A study carried out by a team from St. Michael’s Hospital, Canada, reported in the journal Open Medicine that between 2000 and 2009 a total of 606 Canadian doctors were disciplined by the provincial medical licensing authorities. 92% of those disciplined were men who had been practicing medicine for an average of 28.9 years. 99% of them were independent practitioners. The most common violations were sexual misconduct (20%), issues regarding standard of care (19%), and unprofessional conduct (16%). 62% of those who were disciplined were general practitioners, 14% were psychiatrists, and 9% were surgeons.

A 2009 study carried out by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Medicine found that the majority of American doctors will face a malpractice lawsuit at some time during their professional careers. However, the risk of having to pay out any money to a plaintiff is fairly low.

One in every three hospitalized patients in the USA encounters a hospital error, says a report published in Health Affairs. The University of Utah researchers revealed that errors made in hospitals were ten times more common than experts had thought. Examples of hospital errors included:

  • Giving the patient the wrong dosage
  • Giving the patient the wrong medication
  • Leaving things inside the patient’s body after surgery
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Operating on the wrong part of the body
  • Persistent back pain after surgery
  • Potentially fatal staph infections
  • Pressure ulcers (bedsores)


The effect of malpractice suits on doctors

Malpractice suits against surgeons in the USA are common, and can have a profound impact on the surgeon’s wellbeing, resulting in stress, professional dissatisfaction and emotional exhaustion, a study revealed. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, November 2011 issue, found that lawsuits were strongly and independently associated with surgeon depression and career burnout.

The authors wrote that surgeons who had gone through a recent malpractice lawsuit were more likely to be dissatisfied with their careers, and would probably advise their children and others to pursue on-surgical or non-medical careers.

Source: Medical News Today