Updated December 29, 2018
When you choose a doctor, what criteria do you use? If you’re like most people, you tend to look at factors based on a mix of necessity and convenience: Does that doctor accept your insurance? Is their office easy to get to?
New information suggests, however, that if you really care about your health, it might be more important to take a hard look at another factor: How many malpractice claims has that doctor had to pay?
Several studies have tried to understand how people pick their doctors. The specific results vary, but some findings are similar across them all: convenience and word-of-mouth are more important than hard measures of medical effectiveness.
A Healthgrades study found that a convenient location and friendly office staff were each more than twice as important as a physician’s success rate for benchmark procedures. That same study found, in fact, that less than half of patients did any research at all on their choice of physician and, for all practical purposes, chose one at random.
According to a study by the American Osteopathic Association, quality of care didn’t even make the top five selection criteria. In that same survey, patients who did research on potential physicians relied most (65%) on word-of-mouth, and less than 25% of them checked a physician ratings website.
A new report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, looked at nationwide malpractice data and found that a very small number of physicians account for the bulk of problems. The researchers noted that only 6% of doctors had paid a medical malpractice claim over the 10-year study period. Just 1% of doctors accounted for nearly one-third of all paid claims. Paid claims, the researchers discovered, were more important than total claims because they highlighted the most serious problems.
Patterns which those looking for a new doctor should consider were revealed in the data, according to the study’s authors. Again, using paid claims as an indicator of substandard care, they found that simply having one paid claim was a warning sign and that, in a kind of snowball effect, having multiple claims made it more likely that a physician would have even more claims.
Beyond that, they listed factors as indicators for patients to consider: Male doctors and older doctors had disproportionately more claims, as did those in four particular specialties (internal medicine, OB/GYN, general surgery, and general practice/family practice). It doesn’t mean that patients should avoid older, male doctors who work in these specialties; it only suggests that an awareness of these attributes can help a patient better scrutinize their choices when selecting a physician.
While the new study suggests that a small number of doctors are the ones most likely to put their patients at risk, any physician or other medical professional has the potential to commit an error which leads to temporary or permanent injury or even death.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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