We know that most physicians are caring, capable professionals and that incidents of malpractice are not the norm. However, it may surprise many people to learn that just 2% of physicians are responsible for nearly 40% of all malpractice claims. That's the finding of a study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine.
What's troubling, however, is that many of the doctors named in these actions continue to practice medicine.
One medical school professor says that the American medical malpractice system does "very little" to stop these doctors from continuing to treat patients. He asserts that while the system is "supposed to identify physicians who may be performing poorly," it does "almost nothing" to improve the health care these physicians provide.
According to the professor, physicians who are found liable for malpractice or settle with their plaintiffs quit medicine at higher rates than those who haven't faced malpractice claims. However, "the overwhelming majority of doctors who had five or more paid claims kept on going."
How is this possible? Some move to another state. However, even though licenses are regulated by individual states, there is a nationwide practitioner data bank that allows patients and medical facilities to check on a doctor's history in any state where they've practiced.
They're more likely to go into practice on their own. This lets them avoid the scrutiny that would come with joining an established practice, hospital or clinic. According to the study, doctors "with five or more claims had more than twice the odds of moving into solo practice" where they faced "less oversight."
Those who've studied this phenomenon note that other physicians, hospitals, insurers and licensing boards can all do better in intervening to help doctors improve their standard of care and prevent those who remain a risk to patients from continuing to practice. In the meantime, there's probably more physician information available online for anyone to see before choosing a new doctor. Unfortunately, many people never look.
It's also essential for patients who have been harmed by a physician's actions or negligence to take action. This can help prevent other patients from being harmed or, at the very least, bring a physician's errors to the attention of the proper authorities. If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it's wise to seek the guidance of an experienced attorney.