New research suggests that just one percent of all doctors in the United States may be responsible for about one-third of all medical malpractice lawsuits presented nationwide.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 28, researchers looked at the prevalence and characteristics of physicians who were frequently targeted by malpractice claims.
Researchers from Stanford University found that the strongest indicator that a physician would be successfully sued for malpractice was if that doctor had been successfully sued in the past.
The study used data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, including information on 66,426 claims paid against 54,099 physicians between 2005 and 2014. Researchers looked at the number of times a doctor paid out for medical malpractice claims, profession, age and other factors.
According to the findings about 1% of doctors accounted for 32% of all paid claims. Researchers found that the risk of a physician facing another medical malpractice lawsuit went up based on how many times he or she had been successfully sued in the past. A doctor who had three paid claims was three times more likely to be sued again than a doctor with one paid claim, for example.
Researchers found that the vast majority of claims were resolved in out-of-court medical malpractice settlements, with a median payment of about $205,000.
Almost a third of malpractice claims involved wrongful death lawsuits. Neurosurgeons were most likely to be sued more than once, followed by obstetricians, gynecologists, orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons and general surgeons, who were all twice as likely to be sued multiple times than general practitioners.
Researchers also found younger doctors who had to pay a malpractice claim were less likely to face another one. Male doctors were more likely to be sued than female physicians, and doctors trained outside of the U.S. had a slightly increased risk of paying out on multiple claims in their career.
The study found 126 doctors who paid out for more than five medical malpractice lawsuits. They were 12 times more likely to face another medical malpractice lawsuit in the future than their peers.