One percent of all doctors account for 32 percent of all paid malpractice claims, and the more often a doctor is sued, the more likely he or she will be sued again.
Researchers analyzed 10 years of paid malpractice claims using the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federal government database that includes 66,426 claims against 54,099 doctors. The study is in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Compared with a doctor who had one paid claim, having another claim was twice as likely for a doctor who had two, four times as likely for one who had four, and 12 times as likely for one who had six or more.
Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons were about twice as likely to have a paid claim as internists, while pediatricians were 30 percent less likely to have one.
After controlling for the number of years in practice, doctors under 35 were one-third as likely to have a recurrence as older colleagues, and men had a 38 percent higher risk of recurrence than women.
“Ninety-four percent of all doctors have no claims,” said the lead author, David M. Studdert, a professor of law and medicine at Stanford. “But doctors who accumulate multiple claims are a problem, and a threat to the health care system. Identifying these high-risk doctors is a key first step toward doing something about the problem.”