Doctors’ alma maters may help predict malpractice

Graduates of certain U.S. medical schools are more likely to be sued than others, according to a recent report in a safety journal (Quality and Safety in Health Care 2003; 12:330-336). Researchers merged data on malpractice claims from three U.S. states with physician data to calculate the proportion of graduates sued for malpractice between 1990 and 1997. Schools were identified as high or low outliers according to the number of their graduates who had been sued in the past.

They found that graduating from a medical school whose graduates were often sued significantly increased an individual physician’s likelihood of being sued. The researchers did not name the individual medical schools they studied, but they highlight commonalities that risk managers may find useful in looking for the higher-risk physician. When comparing malpractice rates among graduates, high-outlier schools were more likely to be public institutions and tended to be more recently established than low-outlier schools. Schools that were classified as high outliers were likely to remain high outliers over time.

The researchers suggest that there are a number of possible explanations for these findings. They speculate that some schools may provide a lower quality of medical education than others, while certain schools might attract students who are more likely to be sued. The institutional culture of schools may also be a factor, they say.