Thomson Reuters reported this 2013 that physicians on average spend over 10 percent of their careers defending medical malpractice claims, according to a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the RAND Corporation.
The study is part of a project to understand how malpractice claims work and how to improve the efficiency in resolving the claims. The researchers examined time, rather than expenses in the defense.
The study used a database from a national insurance firm to examine medical malpractice claims made against over 40,000 physicians. The study discovered the average doctor spends over four years, or 10 percent of a 40-year career, defending open malpractice claims. The study discovered most of the time was expended on claims that were dropped or dismissed, not on claims resulting in payment.
The time were greater for physicians in high-risk fields, such as neurosurgeons, who had to spend an average of 10 years with an unresolved malpractice claim. Psychiatrists expended the least amount of time, an average of 16 months, defending malpractice charges.
A professor at Harvard Medical School and physician at Massachusetts General Hospital said efforts to improve the malpractice system should concentrate on capping damage awards and reducing the amount of time required to close malpractice charges.
Lawsuits that are dismissed before trial can take two years to close. Cases that settle generally take two to three years. Cases that go to a jury take around five years to reach a verdict.
The study authors suggested a shift to an alternative dispute resolution model similar to the claims management process adopted by the University of Michigan Health System in 2001. Under that program, the university proactively searched for medical errors, revealed them to patients and used a central review committee to close disputes, offering compensation when at fault. From 1995 to 2007, the university discovered a decrease in the time required to resolve charges and a decrease in total liability.
The chief executive of the American Association for Justice noted that 98,000 Americans die annually from preventable medical errors.
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