One-third of US physicians have been sued at some point in their careers. The risk of being sued is higher for older, male physicians in surgical specialties. Most claims are dropped or dismissed, but they can have a significant financial and emotional toll. The AMA is working to implement reforms to reduce the risk of medical liability claims.
A new analysis from the American Medical Association (AMA) has found that nearly a third of US physicians have been sued during their careers. The analysis, which gathered responses from physicians nationwide, found that age, medical specialty, gender, and employment length all influenced a physician’s likelihood of being sued.
The analysis found that physicians who have been practicing longer have had more risk exposure. For example, 46.8% of physicians over 54 have been sued, compared to 9.5% of physicians under 40. Physicians over 54 had an average of 100 claims filed per 100 physicians, while physicians under 40 had an average of 11 claims filed per 100 physicians.
Between 2020 and 2022, physicians over 54 saw a reduction in short-term claim frequency. One reason behind this may be that healthcare utilization declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading older physicians’ labor supply to fall and reducing their exposure to the risk of getting sued.
Women physicians are less likely to be sued than men. Less than a quarter of women (23.8%) had previously been sued, averaging 42 claims per 100 physicians. Meanwhile, 36.8% of men had been sued, with an average of 75 claims per 100 physicians.
Similar to older physicians, the likelihood of women being sued between 2020 and 2022 fell slightly from 2018, potentially due to reduced labor supply and lower exposure risk.
The widest variation in civil liability claims was attributed to a physician’s medical specialty. Surgical specialties had the highest risk, while internal medicine subspecialties had the lowest risk. Over 60% of obstetricians/gynecologists (OB/GYNs), 59.3% of general surgeons, 55.5% of other surgeons, and 47.2% of orthopedic surgeons have been sued.
OB/GYNs have experienced an average of 152 claims per 100 physicians, and general surgeons experienced the most at 193 claims per 100 physicians. Before age 55, 47.2% of OB/GYNs and 43.9% of general surgeons had been sued, the analysis noted.
At the same time, just 7% of allergists and immunologists, 8% of hematologists and oncologists, and 8.6% of endocrinology and diabetes specialists reported they had been sued during their careers.
Civil liability claims can place significant financial burdens on the healthcare system, especially when most claims are dropped without finding any evidence of wrongdoing. The AMA has been working with state and specialty medical associations and other healthcare stakeholders to implement medical liability reforms that better serve patients and physicians.
Here are some key takeaways from the analysis:
- Nearly a third of US physicians have been sued during their careers.
- Physicians who have been practicing longer and who work in surgical specialties are more likely to be sued.
- Women physicians are less likely to be sued than men.
- The majority of civil liability claims are dropped without finding any evidence of wrongdoing.
- The AMA is working to implement medical liability reforms that better serve patients and physicians.