Most doctors will be sued by age 65

August 24, 2011

Most doctors will face at least one malpractice lawsuit by age 65, according to a new study. But dermatologists are among the least-sued specialists, Medscape Today reports.

Cambridge, Mass. - Most doctors will face at least one malpractice lawsuit by age 65, according to a new study. But dermatologists are among the least-sued specialists, Medscape Today reports.

The study, headed by Anupam Jena, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, was based on data drawn from the files of a major national malpractice insurer. Researchers found that physicians in the five most-sued specialties - plastic surgery, neurosurgery, thoracic cardiovascular surgery, general surgery and orthopedic surgery - have a 99 percent chance of getting sued by age 65. The five least-sued specialties - for which the odds of being sued by age 65 are 75 percent - are dermatology, psychiatry, pediatrics, family medicine and a category referred to as “other specialties.”

The study also found that while 7.4 percent of all physicians are hit with a malpractice claim during any given year, only 22 percent of the claims lead to a payment. Through age 65, physicians in the low-risk specialties run a 19 percent risk of facing a suit that pays off for the plaintiff, compared with 71 percent odds for practitioners in the high-risk specialties.

The size of average payments across specialties also varied widely, ranging from $117,832 for dermatologists to $520,923 for pediatricians. The study notes, however, that there appears to be no relationship between the size of the settlement and the frequency with which a certain specialty is sued. Neurosurgeons, for example, are six times more likely to face a malpractice suit than pediatricians, but the former’s average payment of $344,811 is substantially lower than the latter’s.

The study was covered in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.