70% of malpractice cases against surgical residents involve elective surgery, study shows

A study, published in JAMA Surgery, examined why medical malpractice lawsuits targeting surgical residents occur and how they can be prevented.

Researchers reviewed Westlaw, an online, U.S.-based legal research database and identified malpractice cases involving surgical interns, residents or fellows from Jan. 1, 2005, to Jan. 1, 2015. They collected data from 87 cases, including patient demographics, case characteristics and outcomes.

Here are seven study findings:

1. A total of 50 patients were female, while 79 patients were 18 years or older. The median patient age was 44.5 years.

2. Around 77 percent of malpractice cases involved death or permanent disability.

3. Seventy percent of the cases involved elective surgery and 69 percent named a junior resident as a defendant.

4. Cases more often questioned perioperative medical knowledge, decision making errors and injuries as compared to intraoperative errors and injuries.

5. Junior residents were primarily involved with lawsuits related to medical decision making.

6. Ten cases cited residents' failure to evaluate the patient and 48 cases cited lack of direct supervision by attending physicians.

7. A total of 42 cases (48.2 percent) resulted in a jury verdict or settlement in favor of the plaintiff, with a median payout of $900,000.

"This review of malpractice cases involving surgical residents highlights the importance of perioperative management, particularly among junior residents, and the importance of appropriate supervision by attending physicians as targets for education on litigation prevention," study authors concluded.

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