Despite improvements in medical care, thousands of malpractice claims are filed each year. Surgery and diagnosis complaints caused the most medical malpractice claims over the last 10 years, according to a recently-released report from the insurance carrier Coverys.

Findings

The report contained data from over 20,000 Coverys closed claims from 2010 to 2019. The average malpractice claim indemnity rose from $342,581 in 2010 to $411,053 in 2019.

Surgery or procedure-related allegations comprised 29.2 percent and the highest number of malpractice allegations. Diagnosis was second and constituted 27.3 percent of complaints. This was followed by medical-related with 12.5 percent of allegations, medication-related errors with 8.8 percent and patient environment safety at six percent.

The highest surgical error complaints were surgical team performance comprising 78.2 percent of complaints, retained object with 7.1 percent of charges, unnecessary surgeries with 3.5 percent of complaints, wrong site or side allegations at 3.4 percent and delayed surgery with 2.7 percent.

The most cited diagnosis event complaints were patient evaluation involving history and physical at 32 percent, test interpretation at 23.9 percent, ordering diagnostic or lab tests complaints at 23.5 percent and doctor patient follow-ups with at five percent.

Most diagnosis events occurred at doctors’ offices or emergency departments. Cancer was the highest medical condition for diagnosis-event complaints at 28.5 percent.

Surgical improvements

Coverys recommended that healthcare organizations focus on technical skills and clinical judgment. Facilities should consistently provide feedback and performance evaluation of practitioners. There should also be ongoing training and performance of a certain volume of procedures to build proficiency.

Coverys also recommended broad implementation of surgical safety checklists. Facilities should invest in simulation and skills labs where surgeons can practice procedures without harming patients. Finally, hospitals must prioritize distraction reduction.

Diagnosis improvements

Clinical judgment should be improved with clear consultation policies setting forth when a consultation should occur and how consultant’s findings are communicated. A chain of command needs to highlight issues when there are differences in cases.

Facilities need to standardize processes to assure that practitioners take the right steps to reach a correct diagnosis. This must occur from referral to patient follow-up. Practitioners should follow these procedures and use artificial intelligence, so they do not rely solely on their biases and impulses.

Patient evaluation should be improved by having an experience provider perform the initial evaluation for comparison with future assessments. A small issue that was missed in the initial evaluation by a resident or advance practice provider can snowball into a major problem.

Surgical error victims may be entitled to compensation for harm, medical care, and other costs. Attorneys can help them obtain evidence and timely file a lawsuit.