Docs spend years defending malpractice claims

The latest research about medical malpractice cases against physicians reveals both good news and bad--but even the good isn't particularly rosy. According to a research letter published this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the vast majority (95.5 percent) of plaintiffs' claims never even reach a jury, with the court dismissing cases 54.1 percent of the time across specialties. Of those that do proceed to court, physicians prevail 79.6 percent of the time, Anupam Jena of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues reported.

But even with the likelihood of physician victory, all litigated cases come with steep costs of money and time. The researchers' analysis found that cases in which physicians won took 3.25 years to reach a verdict, and the process stretched even longer in cases in favor of the plaintiff. "The substantial portion of litigated claims that are not dismissed in court and the length of time required to resolve litigated claims more generally may help explain why malpractice claims undergoing litigation are an important source of concern to physicians," the researchers wrote.

In an effort to reduce the time and expense of malpractice litigation, as well as improve patient safety, a pilot program in Massachusetts is testing the University of Michigan's model of "disclose, apologize and offer" in addressing preventable adverse events. Under this alternative model, when unanticipated adverse outcomes occur, institutions, healthcare professionals and their insurers disclose that information to the patient and family, FierceHealthcare reported. They then investigate and explain why it happened and establish systems to improve patient safety and reporting. When appropriate, they apologize and offer fair financial compensation without the patient having to resort to legal action.

To learn more:
- see the article from Medpage Today
- read the story from Medscape Today
- access the research letter from the Archives of Internal Medicine