This post is written by Bill Oetgen, MD, MBA, FACC, and John Harold, MD, MACC, co-chairs of ACC’s Medical Professional Liability Working Group.
A recent article, “Malpractice Risk According to Specialty,” in NEJM provides interesting insights for cardiologists and CV surgeons. The study looks at all of the claims of a large physician-owned professional liability insurer from 1991 to 2005. Of 233,738 physician-years of coverage, cardiologists represented 1.8%, and cardiovascular-thoracic surgeons (CVTS) represented 1.6% of the experience.
For all (40,916) physicians, the average annual medical professional liability (MPL) claims rate was 7.4%, with only 1.6% resulting in a payment to the plaintiff. Seventy-eight percent of claims resulted in no payment. For cardiologists on average, 8.6% were named each year in an MPL claim, and 1.0% had paid claims. Thus, cardiologists were at slightly higher risk to be named than were physicians in general, but they had a lower likelihood of actually paying any claim that was filed. For cardiologists, 88% of claims resulted in no payment.
For CVTS, the numbers are less comforting. Annually, 18.9% of CVTS were named in a medical professional liability suit, and 3.8% had paid claims. Of the CVTS claims, however, 80% resulted in no payment, a proportion only minimally higher than all physicians.
With respect to the amounts of payments made in 2008 dollars, the mean payment for all physicians was $274,887 and the median was $111,749. For cardiologists, the mean payment was $306,430, and the median was $145,886. For CVTS, the mean was $291,790, and the median was $161,452.
CVT surgeons appear to be at higher risk for claims and have higher mean and median payments when compare to all physicians while sharing a ~20% risk of having to pay a claim that is brought.
For cardiologists compared to all physicians, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that cardiologists were slightly more likely to have a claim filed in a given year and that, if a payment was made, the amount was moderately higher that those paid for all physicians. The good news is that if a claim has been filed, cardiologists are less likely to make a payment than are all physicians. These results are in general concordance with the results of a study we led that was published last year in the American Journal of Cardiology.