As number of hospitalists soars, so do lawsuits against them

The number of hospitalists is soaring--and so is the number of lawsuits being filed against them.

It's partly because liability insurers have recently separated the evaluation of hospitalists' risk from their claims experience with general internists, Medscape Today reports. Hospitalists have generally been insured at the same rate as primary care physicians, but that will start to change as insurers realize the greater malpractice risks faced by hospitalists.

According to the Society of Hospital Medicine, the hospitalist specialty includes 35,000 physicians.

"We have seen a slightly higher frequency in number of claims and severity in cost of claims in lawsuits against hospitalists,'  Robin Diamond, senior vice president and chief patient safety officer at Napa, Calif., based The Doctors Company, the largest national insurer of physicians, told Medscape Today. "We believe that as hospitalists continue to fill more roles within the hospital and higher demands are placed on them, the risk for being sued may also increase."

What makes hospitalists different? "Hospitalists' patients tend to be sicker than those of primary care physicians, given that they are already hospital inpatients," reports Medscape. "Hospitalists also lack the long-standing relationship with patients that primary physicians have, so they have less knowledge of the patient's personality and background, and less experience with how the patient communicates."

In January, a Johns Hopkins study of hospitalists and their heavy workloads found 40 percent of physicians surveyed said their typical inpatient census exceeded safe levels at least once a month, and more than a third (36 percent) said it happened weekly.

"Many of us in the healthcare industry often wait for someone else to tell us when to start doing new things, but rarely do we expect, do we hear, or do we initiate the order to stop doing something," Danielle Scheurer, M.D., chief quality officer at the Medical University of South Carolina, writes in The Hospitalist.

She suggests breaking old habits, dropping the ones that may be weighing down hospitalists.

"It is incomprehensible that we have created a system that is so complicated and difficult to navigate that even the best and the brightest cannot traverse it unscathed," she writes. 

To learn more:
- read the Medscape Today article
- read The Hospitalist post  

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