, Volume 10, Issue 10, pp 550-556

Physician malpractice

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To assess whether there is a population of physicians who have consistently poor malpractice claims experiences over time.

DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.

POPULATION: 12,730 physicians insured in New Jersey from 1977 to 1991.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: After adjusting for specialty, the physicians were grouped according to who had the highest, very high, and high rates of malpractice claims, approximating 1%, 5%, and 10% respectively, of the insured population. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were calculated comparing the physicians in these high-risk categories with the other physicians.

RESULTS: Of the 55 physicians who had the highest malpractice claims rates during the first four years, two (3.6%) were in the highest group during the subsequent three years (OR 2.8; 95% CI 0.7 to 10.8), five (9.1%) were in the very high group (OR 2.0; 95% CI 0.7 to 5.3), and 11 (20%) were in the high group (OR 2.3; 95% CI 1.1 to 4.6). Of the 260 physicians in the very high group during the first four years, 11 (4.2%) were in the highest group during the subsequent three years (OR 3.6; 95% CI 1.8 to 6.4), 26 (10.0%) were in the very high group (OR 2.3; 95% CI 1.5 to 3.6), and 46 (17.7%) were in the high group (OR 2.0; 95% CI 1.4 to 2.8). Of the 947 physicians in the high group during the first four years, 24 (2.5%) were in the highest group during the subsequent three years (OR 2.3; 95% CI 1.4 to 3.7), 62 (6.6%) were in the very high group (OR 1.5; 95% CI 1.1 to 1.9), and 118 (12.5%) were in the high group (OR 1.3; 95% CI 1.1 to 1.6). Similar results were found when using awards as the outcome.

CONCLUSIONS: Most physicians who have high malpractice rates during their first four years improve over time. Physicians who have high rates of malpractice during one period should not be subjected to disciplinary action. However, carefully evaluating physicians who consistently have high rates of malpractice during two periods may represent an effective strategy for identifying problem physicians.

Received from the Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the Department of Statistics, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.