Physicians from all specialties acknowledge that the specter of medical malpractice haunts them. Could the unhappy patient from this morning sue me? Is yesterday’s slip going to ruin my career? Dr. X was served papers last week, what is the likelihood that I’ll be next?

Experience informs us that telling you “malpractice is rare (relative to patient encounters), concentrate on what you control, and don’t worry about what you don’t” doesn’t make those concerns disappear (even though it’s sound advice).

For most specialties, the answer to the headline question is elusive. A small number of malpractice claims in a given specialty makes error patterns or common scenarios difficult to discern. Actionable analysis often demands a greater sample size. There is, indeed, power in numbers—and greater insight.

Using the power of its robust comparative benchmarking system (CBS), CRICO and its CRICO Strategies clients are able to analyze approximately 30 percent of U.S. malpractice claims and suits (including CRICO cases). Each case is coded in 17 analyzable categories by an experienced nurse reviewing medical records and legal documents. The coding taxonomy extracts the who, what, when, where, and why underlying every case from assertion through closing. Physicians and administrators armed with such analyses are better positioned to resource and design appropriately targeted patient safety efforts that avoid patient harm, and decrease allegations of malpractice.

For Example, Radiologists

18,238 cases (claims and suits), with incurred losses in excess of $3.6 billion, were asserted against all specialties from 2007-2011 across all CBS clients. Radiology is the seventh most frequently named service.

782 cases involved Radiology as the responsible service. That represents four percent of all cases; the $211 million in associated incurred losses represents six percent of all losses.

362 (46 percent) of the Radiology cases involved a death or permanent significant injury.

533 (68 percent) occurred in an ambulatory setting.

1,385 defendants were named in the 732 cases: 56 percent were MDs; 40 percent were the health care organization.

438 cases (56 percent) alleged a diagnosis-related error; mismanaged medical treatment accounted for 24 percent of allegations.

343 (78 percent) of the diagnosis-related cases were assessed as having a test interpretation issue.

221 (50 percent) of the diagnosis-related cases involved cancer; 45 percent of those (N=100) involved breast cancer and 42 cases (19 percent of this subset) involved lung cancer.

13 percent of the 782 Radiology cases in the CBS study group alleged a missed or delayed diagnosis of breast cancer (eight percent alleged a missed fracture).

CRICO’s cases mimic the national picture and more frequently close with a payment when compared with CRICO cases involving other services. The average CRICO payment for Radiology cases ($731,000) is nine percent higher than the CRICO average.

Across the CRICO-insured institutions—and across the country—radiologists are seeking opportunities to improve their accuracy, better communicate results, help close the loop on follow-up care, and reduce the risk of a missed diagnosis. While malpractice cases only provide part of any specialty’s risk profile, the data are a valuable tool to pinpoint those vulnerabilities most likely to harm patients and leave providers susceptible to an allegation of malpractice.

Additional Materials

Malpractice Risk According to Physician Specialty

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