Time Spent on Malpractice Suits May Take Toll on Doctors

New strategies needed to speed up cases, which often drag on for years, researchers say

TUESDAY, Jan. 8 (HealthDay News) -- American doctors spend nearly 11 percent of their careers with malpractice claims waiting to be resolved, new research indicates.

But the analysis of data from a large national malpractice insurance agency also revealed that some specialists spend nearly one-third of their careers with open malpractice claims.

The typical medical malpractice claim isn't filed until almost two years after the alleged incident, and isn't resolved until 43 months after the alleged incident, according to the study, which was published in the Jan. 7 issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Psychiatrists spend the least amount of time with open malpractice claims -- a total of nearly 16 months, or just over 3 percent of their careers. Neurosurgeons spend the most time with open malpractice claims -- nearly 131 months, or 27 percent of their careers, the investigators found.

The length of time it takes to resolve a malpractice claim takes a toll on patients, doctors and the legal system, the researchers said. The time spent dealing with open malpractice claims may be even more stressful for doctors than the financial costs, they noted.

"We believe that the time required to resolve malpractice claims may be a significant reason that physicians are so vocal about malpractice reform, and that any attempt at malpractice reform will need to take the speed with which cases are resolved into account," corresponding study author Anupam Jena, assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a Harvard news release.

New strategies are needed to speed resolution of malpractice claims and to reduce the number of baseless claims, the researchers said.

"Our sense is that we are probably spending too long to resolve many of these cases and that lengthy time to resolution has many unanticipated costs to patients, physicians and the health care system as a whole," study co-author Seth Seabury, a senior economist at RAND Corporation, said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a guide to health care quality.

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