The idea of statistically significant numbers of occurrences being attributed to a small portion of a population isn’t anything new. We know that wealth accumulation, for example, is highly concentrated. A very small number of people hold the majority of wealth of an entire country.
Other populations experience the same anomaly. And, according to a study recently released by Stanford researchers, this same principle can also be applied to doctors who pay out on medical malpractice claims. The study found that just one percent of doctors held responsibility for nearly one-third of malpractice claims paid between 2005 and 2014.
The study was not a small one. Over 66,000 claims were examined, resulting in payouts against 54,000 doctors across the country. And these doctors shared some striking characteristics.
82% were older males. Over half were practicing in the areas of internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, and general practice or family medicine. But, the biggest predictor, however, of whether a doctor would have a claim filed against him or her turned out to be whether that doctor had paid a claim in the past, and how many there had been.
Three prior paid claims meant that the doctor was three times as likely to have another one. Four paid claims led to a four-time increase in that likelihood.
It’s also worth noting that in the decade of time the researchers studied, just six percent of doctors had ever paid a malpractice claim.
Like most studies, while the analysis of this data provided a compelling look at past events, the real value will be in using it as a predictor of future occurrences. Doctors can be targeted for improvement if they show a pattern of malpractice claims that lead to payment. And, for those whose offenses become too frequent, probationary periods can be established and enforced; with some advocates pushing for forced notification of probation to those doctors’ patients.
Regardless of how the data is ultimately used, learning that a small percentage of doctors bears responsibility for a large number of malpractice claims has shed a very bright light on those doctors who tarnish the work of their colleagues and continue to accept the misplaced faith of their unknowing patients.