Have you ever wondered which physician specialties deal with the most malpractice lawsuits? While I was in medical school I often heard physicians discuss the rising costs of malpractice insurance and the lack of tort reform. I knew that OB/GYN doctors had to deal with a lot of lawsuits, but I had no knowledge of which other specialties faced frequent lawsuits. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a great paper identifying which medical specialties are sued the most frequently. The paper can be freely accessed by anyone (click here to see the full article).
The most interesting results can be summarized by the graph below, which demonstrates the percentage of physicians sued in a calendar year, separated by specialty. As you can see, neurosurgeons and cardio-thoracic surgeons lead the list with nearly 20% of all physicians in these specialties sued each year. Wow, that seems excessive! On the other side of the graph, only about 3% of psychiatry and pediatric physicians deal with lawsuits each year.
The article also presents data that demonstrate the cumulative probability of being sued during your career. They find that by the time physicians in ‘high risk’ malpractice fields, such as general surgery and neurosurgery, reach 55 years of age nearly every singly physician has been sued at least once (95-99%).
Malpractice lawsuits are an important topic, especially when choosing a medical specialty during medical school. Students need to know what problems the every-day doctors face so that we can make informed decisions. If someone went into neurosurgery without knowing that nearly 100% of all neurosurgeons will be sued by the age of 55, this might result in a very unhappy professional life. On the other hand, if you love neurosurgery and you are informed about this problem, you will be able to weigh all the pros and the cons of the specialty before making your decision. When you know what you are getting into, you always have a higher chance of success.