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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