Catastrophic’ payouts for med/mal unlikely
Claims aren’t rare, but large payouts are
Catastrophic" malpractice payouts — those that total more than $1 million — make up just 7.9% of total claims, says a recent study on malpractice payouts.1
Researchers reviewed 77,621 nationwide medical malpractice claims reported in the National Practitioner Data Bank from 2004 to 2010. The largest payout was $31 million.
"Physicians have this perception that there are routinely $100 million and $200 million payouts for malpractice, and that’s just not true. Claims are not rare, but large payouts are rare," says Martin A. Makary, MD, MPH, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of surgery and health policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Makary is author of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care (Bloomsbury Press).
Payouts of more than $1 million are more likely to occur when a patient who is killed or injured is under the age of 1; develops quadriplegia, brain damage, or the need for lifelong care as a result of the malpractice; or when the claim results from a problem related to anesthesia.1
A 2011 study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that there is 7% chance of any claim and 1.6% chance of claim leading to payment each year.2
Makary expected the total amount paid for malpractice payouts during the study period ($27 billion) to be higher. "The data reveal that the amount of money paid is actually very small, compared to overall Medicare expenditures or any other benchmark of healthcare spending," he notes.
- Bixenstine, PJ, Shore, AD, Mehtsun, WT, et al. Catastrophic medical malpractice payouts in the United States. J Healthcare Qual 2013; doi: 10.1111/jhq.12011.
- Jena AB, Seabury S, Lakdawalla D, et al. Malpractice risk according to physician specialty. NEJM 2011; 365(7):629636.