Allegations of diagnostic errors, such as rushing through an exam, not making a referral to an appropriate specialist or failure to follow up on abnormal test results, are the most common reason for malpractice suits against primary care physicians (PCPs) in Massachusetts, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The study found malpractice suits against PCPs stemmed from accusations of misdiagnoses 72 percent of the time. The researchers, led by Gordon D. Schiff, M.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, analyzed the records of more than 500 malpractice lawsuits against Bay State PCPs from 2005 to 2009. Of these suits, 397 stemmed from diagnosis, 68 from medications, 15 from communication, 11 from patient rights and eight had to do with patient safety or security.
Primary care malpractice cases resulted in a settlement 35 percent of the time, compared to 21 percent for specialists, and a verdict in favor of the plaintiff 1.6 percent of the time, compared to 0.9 percent for specialists, according to the study.
"Compared with malpractice allegations in other settings, primary care ambulatory claims appear to be more difficult to defend," the researchers wrote, "with more cases settled or resulting in a verdict for the plaintiff."
Although researchers had heard diagnostic mistakes are a major problem in primary care practices, Schiff told the Boston Globe they didn't expect the accusations to account for such a "huge percentage" of the lawsuits filed.
A study in April found diagnostic errors also are the leading impetus for medical malpractice claims nationwide, representing 28.6 percent of claims and $38.8 billion in damages. The same study found misdiagnoses also were the leading cause of death among allegation groups at 40.9 percent, FierceHealthcare previously reported.