When it comes to Medical Malpractice, perceptions are almost always wrong. Myths and misconceptions promoted by trial lawyers hoping to gain new cases against physicians have given the general public the idea that there is some sort of medical malpractice crisis in the U.S., and that is simply not true. Most people believe that medical malpractice premiums are skyrocketing and doctors are getting sued every time they walk in to see a patient. While this was once the case, the climate has changed, and there are 5 basic facts that everyone should know about medical malpractice today:
- The number of payouts for medical malpractice cases has decreased consistently over the last 10 years. With the exception of a few states, the number of medical malpractice claims is significantly lower than a decade ago. Not only that, the severity of payouts on average is way down too. Trial lawyers want the public to believe that there are a lot of bad doctors out there who do not care about the quality of the care they give and that the crazy amount of bad outcomes and subsequent lawsuits prove it. But the data from the National Practitioner Data Bank does not support that theory. Payouts did increase slightly nationwide in 2013 and 2014, but it’s too soon to say if this trend will continue. And they’ve been so low for so long that a small uptick is still a long way from where they were in 2003.
- Only a handful of states still have a medical malpractice problem or “crisis.” New York has the highest number of payouts and the highest premiums in the country followed by California, Florida, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. In most states physicians are enjoying a climate where they’re free from the fear of being sued, and medical malpractice premiums are affordable. This is in part because many states have enacted laws that limit the amount of payouts for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. The stable climate is also the result of increased competition among medical malpractice insurance companies. The carriers are making profits and fighting for market share, which drives premiums down.
- About half of all physicians have been threatened with a medical malpractice lawsuit, but only about 30% have actually been involved in an actual case. Overall, the quality of the doctor-patient relationship is improving. Through risk management programs provided by hospitals, health systems, and insurance companies physicians have learned to improve communication skills, which reduces the likelihood of a suit if there is a bad outcome. The focus has shifted from a fee for service model to a quality of care model, which has encouraged physicians to spend more time with patients and build better relationships. Experts predict the number of physicians threatened with a suit will decrease if the new model continues to be successful.
- Medical Malpractice insurance premiums have consistently dropped in most states since 2009. Reforms in medical malpractice law, lower payouts, fewer payouts, and increased competition have all worked together to drive premiums down. In fact, most physicians are paying the lowest rates in decades. The average annual premium for medical malpractice insurance is $7,000 — $10,000, and only about 5% of all physicians pay more than $20,000 per year. The medical malpractice insurance market tends to be cyclical, so this probably won’t remain true forever, but insurance industry experts are still predicting low and stable rates for the foreseeable future.
- 80% of medical malpractice cases end without a payout. The high percentage of nonpayments in malpractice cases can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. On one hand, it may be that the majority of the suits filed against doctors are frivolous and have no merit. This is obviously the physicians’ and medical malpractice insurance companies’ view. On the other hand, trial lawyers will say that the legal system is designed to protect the physicians and deny the rights of the patients that are allegedly injured by doctors. Either way you look at it, the fact that 80% result in no payout is a statistic that has remained consistent for decades. While any legal action against a physician causes a great deal of stress and can cost in time and money, physicians should feel pretty good about their chances of avoiding a large claim.
When the subject of medical malpractice or medical malpractice insurance is brought up, most people gasp and have the opinion that the whole thing is a mess and doctors are being sued at every turn. Today’s medical malpractice environment has changed dramatically from what it was a decade ago, but the myths and misconceptions are still out there.