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Surgical Resident Malpractice Lawsuits Usually Involve Mistakes Before Surgery: Study

Researchers with the Mayo Clinic report that most medical malpractice lawsuits brought against surgical residents in training involve failure to properly supervise the least experienced junior residents, and usually come from mistakes made before surgery begins. 

The study was published in the January 2018 issue of the medical journal JAMA Surgery, seeking to determine why medical malpractice lawsuits against surgical residents occur and the best means of preventing them.

Mayo Clinic researchers conducted a review of Westlaw, an online legal database, and looked for legal records on medical malpractice cases against surgical interns, residents and fellows from January 1, 2005 through January 1, 2015. The review uncovered at least 87 malpractice lawsuits filed against surgical residents.

According to the findings, 67 of those cases, or 77%, resulted in patient death or permanent disability. The study found that 70% of the cases involved elective surgery, and 69% named a junior resident as the defendant.

In addition, 61% of the cases involved perioperative (before surgery) knowledge, decision making errors and injuries. In 87% of the cases involving junior residents, the lawsuits were related primarily to bad medical decision making. In 55% of the cases, a lack of direct supervision by attending physicians played a role.

In the cases reviewed, 48% ended in jury verdicts or a settlement in favor of the plaintiff. The median payout was $900,000, with some as low as $1,852, and some as high as $32 million.

“This review of malpractice cases involving surgical residents highlights the importance of perioperative management, particularly among junior residents, and the importance of appropriate supervision by attending physicians as targets for education on litigation prevention,” the researchers concluded.

A report issued in February 2017 by the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen found that medical malpractice payments are at historic and all-time lows, indicating that in 2015, the most recent full year of data available, the malpractice costs accounted for only one-tenth of one percent of all healthcare costs. In addition. the number of malpractice payments doled out by doctors was the lowest on record.

The study also found that medical liability insurance premium payments are at a historic low as well, reaching their lowest levels since at least 2003, and only accounted for 0.3% of health care costs in 2015.

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