Which Physician Specialties are at the Highest Risk for Malpractice Claims?

In 2017, JAMA Network published their findings on the physician specialties who paid the most in malpractice claims from 1992 to 2014. Their analysis was based on data from the National Practitioner Data Bank and includes almost 20 million physician-years of data, characterized by physician specialty, with all dollar amounts being adjusted to 2014 dollars. Some of the main objectives of the study were to find mean payment amounts, number of claims and number of claims greater than $1 million for different physician specialties.

The study found that over the period of 1992-2014, the rate of claims paid by physicians decreased, while the number of claims over $1 million increased. The study also found that rates differed greatly across physician specialties.

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As seen in the chart below, the specialties with the most claims were neurosurgery, plastic surgery, thoracic surgery, OBGYN, orthopedics, colon and rectal surgery, and general surgery. The average number of paid claims per 1000 physician-years across all specialties was 14.1. Each of the specialties listed had a rate of claims more than double the average of all specialties, with neurosurgery having the most at 53.1 claims/1000 physician-years. Neurosurgery also had the highest mean payment from paid claims at $469,222 (dermatology had the lowest at $189,065). This can be attributed to the risk of patient injury of the respective specialties.

A similar study was conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine over the years 1991-2005. The results of the study including the specialties that incurred the most claims and claims expenses, were quite similar to JAMA Network’s study. The chart below shows the percentage of physicians from each specialty each year who had a claim and also the percentage that had a claim with payment.

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