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Most Doctors Will Face Malpractice Claims During Their Careers
Date:8/17/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- About three-quarters of U.S. doctors will be sued for malpractice at some point in their careers, though the vast majority will not end up paying any claims, a new study suggests.

The researchers, saying their analysis is the most comprehensive of its type in more than 20 years, found that surgeons faced the highest chance of having a malpractice claim filed against them, while specialties with the lowest risk of a lawsuit included family medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry.

Only about 20 percent of all claims actually led to a payment, and the specialties most likely to face lawsuits weren't always most likely to pay claims, according to the study, which is published Aug. 18 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I think the option to sue your doctor if he's done harm to you is an important patient right, but this research suggests it's a right that can be overused in some settings," said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy, who wasn't involved in the study. "Lawsuits aren't necessarily indicators that the doctors being sued are in the wrong."

During each year of the study period, 7.4 percent of all physicians had a claim filed against them, but only 1.6 percent made a malpractice payment, the study said. In any given year, about 19 percent of thoracic surgeons, neurosurgeons and cardiovascular surgeons could expect to be sued, along with 15.3 percent of general surgeons.

The average claim payment was about $275,000, and the cumulative career risk of facing a malpractice claim was 99 percent in high-risk specialties and 75 percent in lower-risk ones.

Amitabh Chandra, the study's corresponding author and a professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, said surgeons are sued most often because their p
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