Six Top Malpractice Risks in Primary Care

Mark E. Crane


September 14, 2010

In This Article


Nearly 40% of general and family practice physicians have been sued in their careers, as have 34% of general internists, according to a 2010 American Medical Association Physician Practice Information survey of 5825 physicians across 42 different specialties.

Even worse, 1 in 7 primary care doctors have been sued at least twice. The threat of a lawsuit is still pervasive.

Of all of the malpractice suits brought, the leading percentage deals with errors in diagnosis, according to the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), a group of doctor-owned or operated liability carriers.

The top medical conditions involved in malpractice cases for primary care physicians are acute myocardial infarction; breast, lung, and colon cancers; appendicitis; and medication problems. No individual condition accounts for more than 5% of all negligent claims. However, diagnostic error -- that could cut across many conditions -- accounted for more than one third of the claims, the researchers found.

Many of the claims could have been avoided, according to risk managers and attorneys who specialize in malpractice litigation, if physicians had concentrated on "the basics" -- communicating better with patients and with each other, promoting proper documentation, following a diagnosis through to a conclusion, and not practicing beyond their ability and training.

"Sadly, a lot of these cases are self-inflicted wounds," says Alfred F. Belcuore, a malpractice defense attorney in Washington, DC "The physicians might not have been sued or could have won the case with better documentation and bedside manner."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.