What Happens to Physicians Who Commit Malpractice? Sometimes, Not Much
Though a large malpractice verdict or settlement against a physician may raise their professional liability insurance premium, it may not do much to deter medical harm to future patients.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) took a look at physicians who have malpractice claims paid out due to their medical mistakes or inadequate standard of care.
In the NEJM study, a group of researchers compared reports from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) with a Medicare data set to find out if physicians with repeat malpractice claims tend to shut down their practices or skip town to set up shop elsewhere.
The NPDB is an online resource that logs reports of state licensing actions, medical malpractice payments and other adverse physician actions. Hospitals, licensing agencies, insurers, and a limited number of other entities may make queries to the NPDB. The data bank is not available to the public. The Medicare data set used in this study tracks where physicians practice from year to year.
It is easy to think that a physician whose insurance company pays out millions of dollars to settle an injury claim will change their ways. And no one would go to a doctor who is caught in a string of disreputable injury matters, right? Apparently not.
Between 2003 and 2015, the data showed that 480,894 physicians had 68,956 paid claims reported to the NPDB. Here are some of the findings:
- About 89 percent of the physicians listed in the Medicare data set had no claims made against them throughout the study date range.
- Almost 9 percent of the remaining physicians had one malpractice claim paid on their behalf.
- The other 2.3 percent had two or more paid out injury claims. This small group accounted for almost 39 percent of all malpractice claims.
It is good news that a majority of practicing physicians in this study had no claims against them. Yet it is disturbing that a small number of doctors have two or more claims, and account for a large portion of the paid malpractice claims in the study.
The research revealed that physicians who have repeated malpractice claims are actually not likely to shutter their practice and make a fresh start in a different city. Many physicians who face continued legal claims continue to practice where they are. However, these physicians are also more likely to open a solo practice, or move to a smaller practice setting where there is less knowledge of the claims and less oversight of their behavior. Not surprisingly, these doctors are also more likely to quit the practice of medicine—a decision which could be aided by state licensing actions.
There are not a lot of resources that help consumers understand if their healthcare provider is prone to making mistakes. You can check with your state licensing board or the Board of Physicians Quality Assurance to check on licensure issues concerning your physician. If you suffer harm due to a medical, medication, or other mistake, speak with an experienced injury attorney.
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