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What it's Like Being Sued for Malpractice

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Medical malpractice suits often take physicians by surprise, but the results of a survey on physicians' experiences with lawsuits reveal that the outcomes aren't bad and rarely affect their practices.

Medical malpractice suits often take physicians by surprise, but the majority who had been sued revealed that the plaintiff received no award, usually because the case was dismissed before it went to trial, according to a new report.

Medscape released a new report on “The Experience of Getting Sued” and revealed that 60% of physicians said they have never been named in a lawsuit. Men were slightly more likely than women to be named in a lawsuit (24% to 18%).

According to the survey results, the most sued specialty is internal medicine (15%), followed by family medicine (13%) and Ob/Gyn (9%). Among the least sued specialties were allergy and clinical immunology (0.4%), neurology (1%), critical care (1%) and dermatology (1%).

While a quarter of physicians said the experience was one of the worst of their lives and 16% said it was disruptive and humiliating, the majority looked back on it as not being quite so bad. For instance, 41% said that while it was upsetting they were able to continue on course with their practices and lives and 13% said that they’ve had other, equally unpleasant experiences.

Only 1% admitted that they were expecting a lawsuit and a quarter said they suspected one, while the rest were taken by surprise when they were sued. This translates well to the progress of the actual lawsuit, though. Just as the vast majority was surprised by a lawsuit, most lawsuits never went to trial.

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Still, more than a third said that they spent at least 31 hours preparing their defense.

“Those who minimize the impact of lawsuits on doctors often say that very few lawsuits actually go to trial,” Medscape reported. “But that doesn't mean that doctors don't spend significant time preparing and defending themselves.”

A Health Affairs study from January revealed that malpractice claims go unresolved for more than years on average. However, 61% of Medscape’s respondents said that the length of the entire lawsuit process took two years or less. However, 11% did say that their lawsuit took more than five years.

The good news out of the report, though, regarded lawsuit payouts. While 58% said there was no payout, 41% said that the insurance covered the entire payout. Only 2% said that either insurance only paid part or that insurance covered nothing.

The physicians responding to Medscape’s report admitted when they were at fault. Nearly two-thirds (62%) said that the results of their lawsuit were fair. And the vast majority (93%) said that simply saying “I’m sorry” would not have helped avert the lawsuit.

No matter what, the physicians’ practices were little affected by the lawsuit. Just 1% said some patients left the practice, while 9% said patients were supportive overall and 91% said that patients either didn’t know or didn’t bother to mention the lawsuit.

“Although it may seem to the doctor being sued that every eye is on him or her and everyone is talking about the lawsuit, that doesn't actually seem to be the case,” according to Medscape. “In our survey respondents' experience, most patients didn't even know about the lawsuit, and the remainder were supportive.”


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