5% of Doctors = 50% of Malpractice

Few Bad Apples Lead to Soaring Insurance Costs

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 27, 2002 -- Doctors are mad at lawyers over soaring malpractice insurance costs. But a new analysis of public data suggests physicians should heal themselves.

The data come from a public record called the National Practitioner Data Bank. It holds records of malpractice lawsuits since 1990. Analysis of this record by the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen shows that just 4.8% of U.S. doctors are responsible for 51% of all malpractice suits. These doctors cost their insurers nearly $21 billion in damages paid to patients.

The very worst doctors -- just 1.7% of U.S. physicians -- were responsible for 27.5% of all malpractice awards, totaling $11 billion.

"Doctors are blaming lawyers and the legal system for high insurance rates," said Public Citizen's Frank Clemente in a news release. "They should stop pointing fingers and instead look in the mirror. To achieve lower insurance premiums, they should clean up their own profession by strongly disciplining the small percentage of doctors who cause the bulk of medical negligence."

Who are these bad doctors? It's a secret. The Data Bank only identifies doctors by anonymous numbers. It's easy to see why they don't want to be identified:

  • Doctor number 94358, licensed in New Jersey, settled or lost 33 malpractice suits over improper diagnosis or treatment. New Jersey authorities took no action.
  • Doctor number 64625, licensed in Pennsylvania, paid 24 malpractice claims involving improper performance of surgery. Pennsylvania authorities took no action.
  • Doctor number 37949, licensed in Texas, settled or lost 13 malpractice suits over improper treatment or improper performance of surgery. In two of the cases, foreign objects were left in patients after operations. Texas authorities took no action.

Ironically, the U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a bill making it harder for patients to file malpractice suits against doctors, hospitals, HMOs, nursing homes, and pharmaceutical companies. It also places a cap of $250,000 on damages awarded in compensation of human suffering. And it prohibits punitive damages. A similar bill is under consideration in the Senate, which has voted against such bills in the past.

The American Medical Association applauds House passage of the bill. The AMA urges its members to support the Senate bill on the grounds that it will "safeguard patients' access to care by enacting commonsense reforms."

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