WEDNESDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- For doctors defending medical malpractice claims, costs vary widely across specialties and can run into the tens of thousands, even when a patient did not receive a payout, new research shows.
The upshot: Patients end up paying the price in the end, the researchers concluded in their letter published April 5 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Higher defense costs and higher malpractice premiums are ultimately passed down to patients through higher physician fees," said co-author Dr. Anupam Jena, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and a senior fellow at the Schaeffer Health Policy Center at the University of Southern California.
According to Jena and his co-authors, cardiologists shell out the most when it comes to malpractice claims -- averaging more than $83,000 for paid claims -- while ophthalmologists spend nearly $24,000 for paid claims.
Expert witnesses, research costs, lawyers' fees and funding overhead costs, such as filing fees, are among the expenses that rack up bills, Jena said.
"The average malpractice claim in our study cost approximately $23,000," he said, adding that the claims that result in payments are more expensive because they take longer to defend, typically up to two years or more.
To come up with defense costs of paid and unpaid malpractice claims by specialty, the authors analyzed costs associated with nearly 27,000 malpractice claims that closed between 1995 and 2005. The claims involved nearly 41,000 physicians who were covered by a national liability insurer.
Jena and his colleagues had examined the same data in a 2011 NEJM study that compared malpractice risk by medical specialty, he said.
"We wanted to follow-up our earlier study by studying the magnitude of defense costs in medical malpractice and to explore how those
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