Surgeons See Med Mal Claims Decrease, Payouts Rise

Surgeon in MaskEveryone, we have some mixed news to report today. A recent study of surgical med mal claims was discussed at the American College of Surgeons 97th Annual Clinical Congress. Overall, the study found that the number of surgical med mal claim payouts have decreased, which is the good news, but the size of the payouts that are being made are on the rise, which is the bad news.

The study pulled its data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB contains mandatory reporting data on “malpractice payments and adverse actions related to limitations on licensure, clinical privileges, professional society membership, and participation in federal programs.” The data used was from 1990 to 2006 and included both surgeons and surgical residents. Of the 58,518 surgical med mal claims identified, the majority were filed by women (62%) and inpatients (63%). Interestingly, only 1% of claims filed were against surgical residents. Over time, the study found that claims decreased by 154 per year, but payouts increased by $3200 per year.

There was a significant variation in payments from state to state. This suggests that local legal environments may have a significant impact on surgical med mal claims and payments. As one would expect, states with the highest payouts did not have med mal damage caps (Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, and Wisconsin) and states with the lowest payouts did have damage caps (Michigan, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas). Over 95% of the claims were settled out of court. Less than 5% had formal court judgements.

Indicators of large surgical med mal payouts were: quadriplegia, the need for lifelong care or brain damage. Interestingly, the data can be interpreted as either good news or bad news, according to one of the physicians quoted. He said it can be viewed as surgery is becoming safer, because of the lower number of med mal claims being filed. Or, it can be interpreted as becoming more risky, because the damage awards are getting larger. What do you think?