3 strategies to protect against malpractice claims

Malpractice claims are down against internal medicine physicians, according to a new report.

The report, which comes from The Doctor’s Company, the physician-owned insurance company, was based on an analysis of 1,180 claims brought against internal medicine physicians that closed from 2007 to 2014 and looked at reasons why patients filed lawsuits. The study looked at the most common types of claims, specific elements that led to patient injury and risk mitigation strategies.

The report noted that in recent years the number of internal medicine claims generated in inpatient settings has decreased, as the number of patients treated in outpatient settings has increased. The majority of patient injuries (57 percent) occurred in the office or clinic setting.

The top three most common patient allegations accounted for 90 percent of the claims, according to the report. Of those 39 percent were diagnosis related, 32 percent involved medical treatment and 19 percent were medication-related errors.

When it came to specific factors that contributed to patient injury, patient assessment issues contributed to 33 percent of injuries and patient factors, such as the failure to follow a treatment plan or make a follow-up appointment, contributed to 25 percent of injuries. Communication between the patient or family and the provider contributed to 21 percent of patient injuries.

The report offered a number of strategies for physicians to cut their risk of a malpractice claim including these tips:

  • Engage patients in order to obtain an accurate history when developing a differential diagnosis. Take the time to explore patient complaints.
  • Thoroughly evaluate all patients with atypical chest pain no matter what their age. The study found 22 percent of patients who suffered a myocardial infarction or cardiac arrest (the most common patient injury) were in their forties and had atypical chest pain.
  • Pay close attention to calls from patients who have just undergone surgery. Community-acquired and hospital-acquired infections can be difficult to diagnose, the analysts said.

The reduction in internal medicine claims reflect what is happening In terms of overall malpractice claims. Researchers who analyzed medical malpractice payment reports found they dropped 28 percent between 2004 and 2014.