Nearly Two-thirds of Cardiologists Report Being Sued

Megan Brooks

January 28, 2020

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of cardiologists have been named in at least one malpractice suit, according to results of the newly released Medscape Cardiologist Malpractice Report 2019.

That's higher than the percentage of all physicians who reported having been sued (59%) responding to the overall Medscape Malpractice Report 2019.

For the report, 4360 physicians in more than 25 specialties, including 131 cardiologists (89% male), were asked whether they have been sued, the reason for the lawsuit, what happened, and how the experience affected the way they practice medicine and interact with patients.

About one-third (34%) of cardiologists who have been sued reported complications from treatment/surgery and wrongful death as the reason. A little more than one-quarter (27%) said failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis was the main reason for legal action, whereas 25% said poor outcome/disease progression was the reason; 23% said failure to treat or delayed treatment led to the lawsuit.

Less common reasons were patient abdominal injury (11%), poor documentation of patient instruction and education (6%), and errors in medication administration (4%).

Unexpected, Unwarranted

For nearly six in 10 (57%) cardiologists, being sued came as a complete shock, higher than the percentage of all physicians (52%). More than a quarter of cardiologists (28%) were somewhat surprised by the lawsuit, and 16% were not at all surprised.

The vast majority of cardiologists (86%) felt that the lawsuit was not warranted, whereas 6% were unsure. Only a small percentage (7%) felt that legal action was justified.

Nearly one-third of cardiologists who were sued (31%) could point to a trigger incident that sparked the lawsuit, whereas half said there was not a specific incident that spurred legal action; 19% weren't sure.

Being sued is time-consuming; nearly half (49%) of cardiologists who were sued spent more than 40 hours on their defense, doing tasks such as gathering records, meeting with attorneys, and preparing for depositions. Forty-four percent said the whole process took 1 to 2 years to resolve, but 19% said the process dragged on for 3 to 5 years, and 8% said it lasted more than 5 years.

Nearly one-third (30%) of cardiologists who were sued said the case was settled before trial; 11% were dismissed from the suit in the first few months. Of cardiologists whose cases went to trial, nearly one-fifth (17%) said the judge or jury returned a verdict in their favor, whereas 3% said the case was ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

Patient Misconceptions to Blame?

Asked why they think most malpractice lawsuits occur, 67% of cardiologists felt that patients simply don't understand medical risks and blame the doctor for bad outcomes even if the doctor does everything right. Many cardiologists (62%) also recognized that if there is a true medical error and patients are harmed, they want to assign blame.

A little more than a quarter (28%) felt that constant advertising by lawyers to get new clients is the reason most malpractice lawsuits happen; 22% felt it was because patients think they can make easy money.

Like physicians overall, the overwhelming majority of cardiologists (88%) carry malpractice insurance.

Among cardiologists with malpractice coverage who either settled or went to trial, 42% were encouraged by their insurer to settle the case and 19% were required to settle.

"Generally, if a physician senses that he or she is heading toward a difference of opinion with the insurer about settlement, they probably ought to invest a little time in having personal counsel look at the case," David S. Szabo, Esq, malpractice defense attorney with Lock Lorde LLP, Boston, told Medscape.

Among cardiologists' cases that resulted in a settlement or verdict in plaintiffs' favor, 53% of monetary awards maxed out at $500,000, whereas 29% maxed out at $100,000.

Six out of every 10 cardiologists (61%) named in a lawsuit felt that the outcome of the case was fair; 39% did not feel this way.

Looking back, cardiologists said they would have done several things differently. Cited most often were better chart documentation (23%) and ordering tests that would have "covered" them (13%).

More than three-quarters (77%) of cardiologists felt that saying sorry or offering an apology to the patient would not have deterred their lawsuit.

About half (51%) of cardiologists felt that making the plaintiff responsible for attorney and legal fees of every party involved, if they lose, would be a good way to discourage lawsuits.

Half felt that having a medical panel screen cases for merit would help avert cases; 44% favored placing caps on noneconomic damages to discourage malpractice cases; 43% said better communication and rapport with patients would help; 27% (each) said trying cases before health courts and reducing medical errors made by doctors would discourage cases.

More than half (54%) of cardiologists felt that medical organizations or state societies should do more to discourage malpractice cases. This level of dissatisfaction is about the same among all physicians (56%) responding to the survey.

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