Anesthesiologists Pay Some of the Highest Malpractice Premiums

More than half of anesthesiologists report being named in a lawsuit at least once in their career and the specialty continues to command one of the highest malpractice premiums, according to the Medscape Anesthesiologist Malpractice Report. 2021.

Unlike other surgical specialties such as general surgery or plastic surgery, anesthesiology was not among the 10 specialties most likely to be in demand. in 2019, anesthesiology was ranked 10th on the same list. in this year’s report, plastic surgeons and general surgeons were more likely to be sued, with 83% of both specialties having been named in at least one lawsuit. orthopedics ranked third (81%) and specialized surgery sixth (74%).

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Still, slightly more anesthesiologists reported having been named in lawsuits compared to all physicians (54% vs. 51%). however, only 8% of them were named individually in lawsuits, and most anesthesiologists (48%) reported being included along with other physicians in a lawsuit. Across all specialties, 13% of physicians reported being the only person named in a lawsuit.

Although only a small percentage of anesthesiologists surveyed (14%) said they had been named in a lawsuit due to the actions of a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, this was more common in anesthesiology in comparison with all specialties (9%).

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This new report was compiled from an online survey of more than 4,300 physicians from 29 specialties. The survey was available from May 21 to August 28, 2021, and included 407 anesthesiologists. more than half of the respondents (51%) had practiced anesthesiology for more than 25 years, and 53% were 60 years of age or older.

In anesthesiology, the most common reason for a lawsuit was complications from treatment and surgery (48%), abnormal patient injury (27%), and wrongful death (18%). most commonly sued (31%) for lack of diagnosis or delay in diagnosis. only 10% of anesthesiologists cited failure to diagnose as the reason for a lawsuit.

Across all specialties, anesthesiologists paid some of the highest medical malpractice premiums. Nearly a quarter (24%) reported paying between $10,000 and $15,000 a year for malpractice insurance, and 17% said they paid between $15,000 and $20,000. This is consistent with the previous medical malpractice survey from medscape in 2019, where anesthesiologists ranked fourth among all specialties for medical malpractice premiums.

Nearly a third (32%) of lawsuits were settled before trial, as were physicians in general, who reported that 33% of cases were settled out of court. 13% of anesthesiologists reported being fired from the lawsuit in the first few months and 12% reported being fired from the lawsuit before reaching a settlement. when a case went to trial, only 2% reported that the jury found in favor of the patient, while 9% said that the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant.

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when the patient was awarded a monetary payment, anesthesiologists tended to pay more than the general group of physicians. only 32% of anesthesiologists reported that the patient received less than $100,000, compared to 40% of all physicians surveyed. among the anesthesiology specialty, 30% said patients received up to $500,000 and 20% reported monetary payments of up to $1 million. and 7% of cases resulted in the plaintiff receiving more than $2 million, compared to 4% of cases in the GP class.

Nearly half (47%) of anesthesiologists said they would not have done anything differently, and 22% said they would have better chart documentation. the majority of respondents (60%) said there were no attitude or career changes after the lawsuit, and more than a fifth (22%) said they trusted patients less or treated them differently. one respondent wrote, “it made medicine sour and made me hesitant to take on difficult cases.”

Nearly all respondents (99%) said they had not been named in a lawsuit related to a covid allegation, but 10% expressed concern about being sued for negligence over a covid-related issue during the pandemic. One anesthesiologist wrote, “I think we could see claims related to overtreatment of covid resulting in worse outcomes, due to initial lack of knowledge on how to treat.”

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