Do anesthesiologists still have a bad reputation for getting sued the most? Luckily that doesn't seem to be the case any more. Thanks to all the major safety innovations that anesthesiologists have advanced in the field of medicine, the stigma of anesthesiologists as being uniquely more susceptible to medical malpractice has faded. However that doesn't mean that we should let our guards down.
Medscape has released its latest survey on which physicians face the most malpractice lawsuits. In a poll of over 4,000 doctors, general surgeons won the dubious honor of being the most likely to get sued. As a matter of fact, the top ten are heavily populated with surgical fields, such as urology, ENT, and OB/GYN. Even some of the non surgical fields who are in the top ten, like GI and cardiology, I suspect, are there because they are highly procedure oriented, similar to surgeons. The surgical fields are more likely to face malpractice claims because usually one event can be pinpointed that led to a bad outcome. A patient being treated for chronic illnesses is less likely to know exactly what and who were negligent in their care.
Emergency medicine, number seven on the list, with its high concentration of difficult, unpredictable patients, are likely to face malpractice simply because they have little long term rapport with most of their patients, setting themselves up for getting sued. Anesthesiologists just barely squeak into the top ten of physicians likely to face lawsuits. Despite all our emphasis on patient safety, bad things happen and anesthesiologists are easy to blame since we face the same minimal patient relationships as ER physicians.
Geography also plays a role in how likely physicians will get sued. If you live in a red state, watch out. Most of the top ten are in states that President Trump won in 2016. Kentucky is where one is most likely to get a lawsuit according to Medscape.
Luckily most lawsuits are found in favor of the physician. In their survey, one third of the doctors reported that they settled before going to trial. Most doctors stated that they were eventually dropped from the suit or they were found innocent. Only three percent of doctors said they went to court and were found liable. Those are pretty good odds.
If monetary awards are ordered, over fifty percent report paying less than $500,000. The blockbuster awards that make news are extremely rare. According to the doctors who responded, only about a tenth of the lawsuits involved payouts over $1 million.
There's a lot more information that you can glean from the survey. Maybe you can gain some insight into your own practice to prevent a medical malpractice suit. Or maybe these things are frequently beyond our control and we just have to hope for the best.