The most damaging toll on physicians involved in malpractice cases may not be how much they spend in dollars but rather, the amount of time it takes to put lawsuits behind them, according to a new study from Harvard Medical School and the RAND Corporation.
Although most physicians don't end up paying damages related to a malpractice claim, new research published in the January Health Affairs reveals that the average physician spends more than 50 hours, or 11 percent, of a 40-year career with an open malpractice claim.
According to researchers, the length of such an ordeal varies greatly by specialty. For example, while psychiatrists resolved claims in an average of 16 months, neurosurgeons spent a full decade (or 30 percent of their careers) defending themselves.
Lengthy malpractice cases can cause stress on physicians, patients and the legal system, according to study authors Anupam Jena, assistant professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues. They recommended a shift to an alternative dispute-resolution process similar to the claims management program adopted by the University of Michigan Health System in 2001, according to a statement. A similar model testing a "disclosure, apology and offer" program is also underway at three major health systems in Massachusetts.