By studying thousands medical malpractice settlements that were paid to
plaintiffs between 2005 and 2014, the New England Journal of Medicine
uncovered one unsettling truth: a slim percentage of doctors were responsible
for a disproportionately huge amount of
medical malpractice incidents. According to the statistical research, which relied heavily
on information from the United States National Practitioner Data Bank,
only 1% of doctors were involved with 32% of medical malpractice settlements.
The data also revealed that if a doctor committed medical malpractice once,
they would be far more likely to commit it again, increasing exponentially
as the errors occur. For physicians involved in six or more medical malpractice
claims – who made up 1.4% of all claims despite only being 0.2%
of all doctors – the risk of them committing medical malpractice
yet again was 12x greater than someone who had only caused one error in
their career. Overall, the study paints a fairly clear picture that a
significant percentage of medical malpractice incidents should have been
entirely preventable, as the doctor who committed them had been erroneous
in the past.
Are Physicians Being Held Accountable?
Around 80% of the medical malpractice settlements used for the study involved
either patient death or serious injury. With such severe consequences
tied to so many cases, and so many cases linked to such a small percentage
of doctors, the question of how this was allowed to happen arises. It
would appear that physicians are not being held accountable for their mistakes.
The apparently-slackened approach to reprimanding and punishing negligent
doctors might be caused in part by how the cases are concluded. When a
doctor chooses to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit, they are not required
to specifically state that they admit to making an error. Instead, they
can decide to settle to “set it behind them and move on” but
never take blame. Without admittance of guilt, further investigations
or administrative penalties are hard to enforce or justify. In the end,
it causes doctors to remain in practice and remain a hazard to their patients.
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