Doctors Still Fear Malpractice Lawsuits, U.S. Study Finds

TUESDAY Dec. 21, 2010 -- A new study finds that while doctors are fearful of being sued for malpractice, their worries are greater than their actual risk of landing in court.

"We found that both generalist and specialist physicians fear being sued for malpractice even in states where their risk of being sued is relatively low," senior study author Dr. David Katz, associate professor of medicine with University of Iowa Health Care, said in a university news release. "One likely explanation is that physicians' concerns about malpractice are driven more by their perception that the malpractice tort process is unfair and arbitrary and less by their actual risk of getting sued."

The investigators also found that legislation designed to get a handle on malpractice costs hasn't made physicians any less worried about being sued. And such reforms may not convince doctors to change their approach to so-called defensive medicine: being ultra-cautious in order to prevent litigation, perhaps by doing things like ordering unnecessary tests.

The study authors, who published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Health Affairs, surveyed doctors around the country. Physicians were very worried about malpractice regardless of their specialties or where they lived.

Even those in states with low levels of malpractice risk -- less than one-third of the risk in the higher-risk states -- were quite concerned that they might get sued. "The high levels of malpractice concern, even among physicians in relatively low-risk environments, is striking," Katz said. "One possible explanation is that most physicians do not have the information to accurately access their actual risk of being sued."

More information

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has details on how you can prevent medical errors.

Posted: December 2010


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