Physicians’ Fear of Being Sued is Pervasive

Third in a series of five articles on the 2011 MMS Physician Workforce Study

Our 10th annual workforce study suggests that while medical malpractice insurance costs in Massachusetts tend to be higher than national averages, the fear of being sued has a much more dramatic impact on physicians than the actual cost of the insurance.

The survey found that 12.5 percent of physicians have limited the scope of their practice because of malpractice insurance costs. Specialists were only slightly more likely to respond yes, at 14.6 percent.

But when asked whether the fear of being sued has prompted them to alter or limit their scope of practice, that number jumps to 46 percent. There’s only a slight difference between primary care physicians and specialists (46 and 49 percent, respectively).

But within specific specialties we see some interesting numbers, especially when comparing their answers to the same question in the 2008 survey.

In 2008, about half of orthopedic surgeons, gastroenterologists and dermatologists said they had altered their practice for fear of being sued. In 2010, that numbers jumps to almost three in four.

Conversely, we see the reverse dynamic among neurosurgeons and urologists. In 2008, three quarters of these doctors said they had altered their practice. In this year’s survey the number was much closer to 50 percent.

The percentage of obstetrician-gynecologists (who have the highest premiums of any specialty) who responded yes to that question remained relatively steady at 56 percent, compared to 57 in 2008.

Why the differences over the years? It’s hard to say, and the study didn’t delve into the question. But as the survey notes, “the threat of a malpractice suit has an extraordinary pervasive impact on all specialties.”

Read the workforce study at www.massmed.org/workforce

Coming tomorrow: Physicians and Their Professional Satisfaction. Read the other posts in this series here.

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