Doctors who work primarily in hospitals and outside of offices have a significantly lower rate of malpractice claims than other internal medical professionals, according to a new study. This study is the first retrospective observational research that analyzes the rates, types, and causes of medical malpractice claims brought against U.S. hospitalists. In Fort Lauderdale, medical malpractice defense attorneys say that the research indicates how hospitalists are avoiding lawsuits by virtue of their practice, as well as the manner in which they practice medicine.
The term hospitalist was coined by Robert Wachter and Lee Goldman in the 1990s, and refers to a doctor whose primary concern is the medical care of severely ill and hospitalized patients. Hospitalists do not work in offices as primary care physicians, but rather take active roles in patient care, research and teaching. Hospital medicine, as a specialty, is organized around the hospital itself, rather than the specifics of an organ, disease, or patient’s age.
Presented by Adam Schaffer, MD, at Hospital Medicine 2013, the study indicated that internal medicine physicians were sued nearly four times more than hospitalists, on average. One possible reason for the difference in rate may have to do with cancer patients. A large number of medical malpractice claims that are brought against primary care physicians deal with cancer screenings, especially screenings for breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Researchers noted that this might be a factor in the lower rates for hospitalist claims, because hospitalists are less likely to deal with cancer screenings or misdiagnoses.
The study took data from a database maintained by medical liability carriers that had compiled more than 30,000 closed claims across the board of specialties. Using this information, researchers determined that the average claims rate for hospitalists was 0.52 per 100 physician-coverage years, compared to the 1.91 rate for non-hospitalist internists. Researchers found 272 claims over a 14-year period, from 1997 to 2011, in which the claim was filed against a hospitalist. Of these claims, 41.5 percent were based on treatment error, 36 percent on missed diagnosis, 9.6 percent on medication-related errors, 4.4 percent on inadequate monitoring, and 3.3 percent on surgical errors.
In the study, researchers analyzed 369 claims brought against general internists and subspecialists. The data collected showed that the top three reasons for medical malpractice lawsuits are the same for both hospitalists and physicians, but the order and percentages of each differs from the hospitalist claims. Diagnosis-related claims topped the list at 58 percent, followed by treatment errors at 23 percent, and medication management at 9.5 percent.
Medical malpractice attorneys in Fort Lauderdale say that this research shows where patients are having legal troubles – primarily in treatment and diagnosis errors. The data also indicates that these lawsuits often list miscommunication as a contributing factor. Hospitalists could benefit from better communication with hospitalized patients and their families, and could perhaps bring the number of lawsuits down even further.
The experienced medical malpractice defense lawyers at leading Fort Lauderdale-based law firm Lubell Rosen provide legal advice and representation to any medical professional – hospitalist or primary care physician – facing a lawsuit.