In this video, healthcare marketing consultant Ron Harman King, MS, discusses a new analysis from the American Medical Association (AMA) that looks at the nearly one-third (31.2%) of U.S. physicians that in 2022 reported they had previously been sued.
Following is a transcript of his remarks:
A new analysis of lawsuits against doctors yields both surprising and anticipated results. According to the American Medical Association, nearly one-third, or 31.2%, of U.S. physicians reported they had been sued.
I find such a high rate at least mildly surprising, given the common sentiment among medical malpractice attorneys that winnable cases against physicians are extremely few and far between.
Not so surprising to me is that two-thirds of civil liability claims are dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn without a finding of fault. Moreover, when a suit goes all the way to a jury, the defendant doc statistically has nearly a 90% chance of winning, according to the AMA.
That number comports with other research findings. A study published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies found that plaintiffs in general succeed in trials less than 5% of the time.
Other studies report that civil cases are settled before trial at a rate ranging from 27% for constitutional tort cases (allegations of a violation of constitutional rights by a state or municipal employee) up to nearly 90% for all tort cases (civil lawsuits).
No doubt least surprising from the AMA analysis is the finding that surgical specialists are at highest risk of lawsuits, and internal medical subspecialists are at lowest risk. About 62% of ob/gyns and 59% of general surgeons have been sued in their careers to date. In contrast, only 7% of allergists/immunologists and 8% of hematologists/oncologists have faced suits.
Another non-surprise is the factors of age and years of experience. Nearly half of doctors – 46.8% – over the age of 54 have been sued, a rate approximately five times that of suits against doctors younger than 40. It makes arithmetic sense that the longer you practice, the more patients you treat and the higher the odds are that someone’s not going to be happy with his or her outcome.
This brings us to pretty much unarguably the most surprising finding: Women physicians on average face barely half as many claims as men doctors – 42 claims per 100 women physicians, contrasted to 75 per 100 for their male counterparts. Not only are female practitioners sued about two-thirds as often as the guys, but when they are, on average each bears fewer legal complaints.
In sum, that means women physicians are sued barely half as much as men doctors.
This discrepancy should unleash considerable speculation about what accounts for the difference. I offer several explanations.
First, we’re all aware that surgeons are overwhelmingly male. For example, as of 2022, less than 6% of orthopedic surgeons were female, whereas 65% of pediatricians are women. The AMA finds that the same is true for neurosurgeons, of which more than four in five are men, as well as for thoracic surgery, with a 78% male presence.
The ob/gyn specialty is a bit of an exception, given that a sizeable portion perform surgery; the genders of obstetricians and gynecologists are split fairly evenly, at a ratio of 53-to-47 male-to-female. On the other hand, 87% of plastic surgeons are male, as are 92% of vascular surgeons.
Okay, those are more obvious facts. A little less evident is the fact that women doctors conduct about 11% fewer patient visits and work 2.6% fewer clinical days. Additionally, female physicians take off from work for childcare more than three times as often as their male colleagues. Fewer patient encounters correlates, of course, to lower odds of generating unhappy patients.
But where the all-weather rubber tread really meets the road lies in societal costs. First, legal proceedings boost insurance premiums and deplete justice-system resources.
Then there’s the cost savings in the style of healthcare. Research has shown that female physicians ask their patients more psychosocial questions and spend 10% more time with them. One study further found that women doctors provide more preventive care and give more counseling than the men. They also score higher on empathy scales, use more egalitarian language, and use less jargon in patient interactions.
Yet where it really adds up in terms of patient satisfaction as well as economically is in hospital clinical outcomes. Patients of women hospitalists generally achieve lower readmission and mortality rates than patients of male doctors.
However, let’s also acknowledge the ugly persistence of classical sexism. One study found that patients perceived women doctors as more domineering than the men whenever they sit too close to patients, speak more often and/or more loudly, look more often at their computers, ask too many questions, or disagree with patients. Gender bias cuts two ways and dies hard.
Nevertheless, on balance it appears a safe bet that women make better doctors in at least one respect: patient satisfaction. It’s a given that patients who get more doctor time, more counseling, more empathy, more preventive care, and experience fewer hospital admissions will be less litigious patients.
The benefits are bountiful. Fewer lawsuits help curb providers’ insurance premiums, ease the heartache of medical practice, unclog the courts, and reduce lawyer ambulance chasing.
Next time I see my favorite doctor, I’ll be sure to thank her for it.
Ron Harman King, MS, is CEO of Vanguard Communications, a healthcare marketing and practice management consulting firm, and the author of The Totally Wired Doctor: Social Media, the Internet & Marketing Technology for Medical Practices. He blogs for MedPage Today on the topics of technology, the law, and the patient experience.