Internists more likely to face malpractice lawsuits for high-severity injuries than other physicians

High-severity injuries account for 58 percent of medical malpractice claims against internal medicine physicians, compared to 34 percent of claims against physicians overall, according to a study from The Doctor's Company, a medical malpractice insurer.

The study is based on an analysis of 1,180 malpractice claims involving internists that were closed between 2007 and 2014. The analysis indicates internal medicine physicians are most often sued for one of three top allegations. The following three allegations account for 90 percent of all claims.

1. The most common allegation is diagnosis-related and accounts for 39 percent of all claims. This includes incorrect diagnoses, delayed diagnoses or the failure to diagnose. Seven in 10 of diagnosis-related malpractice claims resulted in high-severity injuries.

2. The second most common allegation was complaints about medical treatment, which accounted for 32 percent of claims against internists. This type of claim is made when a patient feels something was wrong with the treatment, from inadequate communication between providers to the failure to order diagnostic tests.

3. Medication-related error is the third most common allegation at 19 percent. This could include the failure to address side effects of a medication or the failure to identify interactions of various drugs a patient may be taking.

"This study reinforces that physicians fail to diagnose and treat accurately for a variety of reasons," Howard Marcus, MD, internal medicine physician with Austin (Texas) Regional Clinic, said in a statement. "The average primary care physician will diagnose about 400 different diseases a year and occasionally encounters a rare medical condition that he or she may have never seen before. It is in this context that failure to diagnose may be caused by an error or lapse in reasoning rather than a failure of knowledge or clinical skill."

Among the claims analyzed, researchers identified 84 distinct types of injuries. The most common injuries found among the malpractice claims were death (44 percent), infections (16 percent), malignant conditions (13 percent), and adverse drug reactions (12 percent), according to the study.


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