A recent study in the British Medical Journal Open, The Epidemiology of Malpractice Claims in Primary Care: a Systematic Review, has addressed how often medical malpractice and wrongful death claims filed against primary care physicians worldwide. Authors of the study conducted a systematic search of more than 7,000 medical articles to find data involving medical malpractice trends and studies. Articles were included in the review if they involved at least ten medical malpractice claims based in primary care. Of the 239,756 closed medical negligence claims in the U.S. filed between 1985 and 2008, primary care physicians represented 11% of all claims. Another review of 1,452 claims in the U.S. revealed that primary care ranked third, representing 16% of claims. A copy of the article can be found here.
The researchers found that the most common medical malpractice and wrongful death claims against primary care physicians involved missed or delayed diagnoses, which accounted for 26% to 63% of all claims. In adults, the most common primary care medical malpractice claims typically involved failing to diagnose cancers of the breast, colon, skin, lung and female genital tract, and myocardial infarction (heart attack). Following these were appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, and bone fractures. In children, the most frequent missed or delayed diagnoses concerned meningitis and cancer.
Several studies found that these diagnostic mistakes may result from faulty clinical reasoning, misinterpretation of diagnostic tests or system failures, and typically may be a combination of many factors. Overall, medication errors were the second most frequent cause for malpractice claims, totaling between 5.6% and 20% depending on the study reviewed. Several studies highlighted that drug errors often were multifactorial with prescriber, patient and system factors all being contributors.
The compensation awarded to claimants varied across studies. One U.S. study, which reviewed almost 5,000 family practice malpractice claims, reported mean payments of $253,739.69 and median payments of $119,389.20. Additionally, one study revealed that the mean time to resolution of a primary care malpractice claim was 20.6 months.
Recognizing the difficulty in generalizing across countries, this study reveals that primary care physicians’ failure to diagnose common conditions can lead to serious malpractice consequences. Fortunately, patients have the ability to take legal recourse by filing medical malpractice lawsuits against medical professionals whose negligence or wrongdoing caused them severe harm or even death. At Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White we represent clients in Maryland medical malpractice actions and dedicate our efforts to helping clients seek justice against these medical professionals.
Over the years, I have successfully handled many cases against primary care providers. To see some of the cases, click here.