Malpractice and Medicine: Who Gets Sued and Why?

Carol Peckham


December 08, 2015

In This Article


The current system of compensating patients for medical errors is not working and is leading to profound disillusionment among those in the medical profession. The Medscape survey revealed major discouragement with the system and a sense of powerlessness. Although most medical organizations are seeking ways to redress this problem, less than a quarter (24%) of physicians who responded to the survey felt that they were active or only somewhat successful in reducing lawsuits. They rest felt such groups were either helpless, pretty inactive, or just not doing anything at all. It is hoped that state and federal programs and legislation currently underway will find effective measures to reduce costs and protect the well-being of both the patient and the doctor.

On the plus side, evidence suggests that there is at least some improvement. Paid claims decreased from 18.6 per thousand physicians in 2002 to 9.9 in 2013. Of these claims, 96.6% were from settlements and only 3.4% from verdicts.[9,21] (The Medscape survey showed a similar result; only 3% of verdicts were also settled in the plaintiff's favor.) Still, declining claims and payments do not necessarily reflect a triumph of efforts to achieve true reform. There is no evidence that errors have declined; and, to date, no clear solutions have emerged that resolve the tensions these errors produce between physicians, patients, and lawyers.[22]

When asked to verbalize their experiences, physicians who responded to the Medscape survey typically described feelings of betrayal by patients, humiliation, and disillusionment with the legal system. One physician said, "The evils of human nature on display: greed, dishonesty, corruption. Clever lawyering trumps truth."


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