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| Paulson & Nace

While new medical malpractice cases don’t emerge in the news every day, they remain an enormous threat to patient safety in the United States. In fact, one John Hopkins Hospital study published in 2016 estimated that medical errors cause around 250,000 deaths every year, making them the third leading cause of death across the nation.

Now, new research in the New England Journal of Medicine has revealed that out of 480,000 medical providers in the United States, just 2.3 percent of physicians were responsible for nearly 39 percent of paid medical malpractice claims between 2003 and 2015. In other words, a minuscule number of physicians with poor safety records are causing disproportionately high harm to patients.

This research also found that doctors with multiple malpractice claims are more likely to shift into smaller practice settings, which often have less oversight than larger ones. This is particularly alarming because the public is less likely to seek out information about former claims than an employer, meaning that many individuals are walking into appointments unaware of their physicians’ subpar safety records.

Previous research that examined records between 2005 and 2014 found that one percent of over 50,000 physicians accounted for 32 percent of paid insurance claims. Physicians with at least three claims were three times more likely to incur an additional claim than those with just one previous claim.

Studies like these emphasize the shortcomings of the current medical system in protecting patients from unsafe doctors. One recommendation is to increase transparency between patients and doctors. Medical Economics writer Liz Seegert offered transparency as a strategy that could reduce malpractice claims: “the shift to patient-centered care is designed to help patients be part of the decision making process, but that requires openness and communication by the physician about information in the medical record.”

While it is unlikely that a single solution will solve the medical malpractice crisis, it is clear that concrete action needs to be taken immediately to prevent future deaths caused by dangerous physicians.

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