“The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax”

That’s the name of a new report issued by Public Citizen. From the press release:

"Public Citizen reviewed publicly available information from 1990 to 2005 from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which contains data on malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors as well as disciplinary actions taken against them by state medical boards or hospitals. According to the analysis, the total number of malpractice payments paid on behalf of doctors, with judgments and settlements, declined 15.4 percent between 1991 and 2005, and the number of payments per 100,000 people in the country declined more than 10 percent. In addition, the average payment for a medical malpractice verdict, adjusted for inflation, dropped eight percent in the same period. "

And this:

"“Despite assertions by the medical and business lobbies that physicians are leaving practice because of burdensome malpractice lawsuits, the number of doctors is increasing faster than the population,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch group."

Here is a couple of items from the report itself:

"American Medical Association President Donald Palmisano told the 2004 Annual Meeting of the AMA House of Delegates that “what is driving this crisis are the out-of-sight awards some runaway juries are handing out in certain liability cases.”13 This assertion is incorrect on the facts – when adjusted for inflation, the median judgment grew only from $125,000 in 1991 to $139,100 in 2005, a mere $14,000 over 14 years. Such a modest increase hardly suggests that juries are irrational."

"Our analysis of NPDB data shows that only 33 percent of doctors who made 10 or more malpractice payments received any disciplinary action by their state medical board. Even more disturbing, NPDB data show that physicians with up to 31 medical malpractice payments totaling millions of dollars in damages never received any disciplinary action."

"The number of payments for easily avoidable errors, such as leaving a foreign object inside a patient, or operating on the wrong body part, fell from 874 in 1991 to 576 in 1997, and then remained relatively constant until 2004, when incidents increased dramatically. The most recent data reflect the highest number of such errors in 11 years."

"The vast majority of doctors – 82 percent – have never had a medical malpractice payment since the NPDB was created in 1990."

"Only 1.1 percent of doctors, having four or more malpractice payments, were responsible for 20.2 percent of all payments."

"Physician Number 33041 had at least 31 malpractice payments between 1993 and 2005, nine for failure to use proper aseptic technique, five for unspecified errors, three for improper management of obstetrics cases, three for improper performance of surgery, three for retained foreign object during surgery, two for failure to treat, one for surgery on the wrong body part, one for failure to obtain consent for surgery, one for delay in treatment of fetal distress, one for failure to treat fetal distress, one for an improperly performed delivery, and once for improper technique. The total damages were $10,150,000."  Note: this physican was not disciplined by the medical board in his or her state.

Click here to read the entire report.