Doctors cut back hours when risk of malpractice suit rises, study shows

Jan 28, 2010

A new study shows that the number of hours physicians spend on the job each week is influenced by the fear of malpractice lawsuits.

Economists Eric Helland and Mark Showalter found that doctors cut back their workload by almost two hours each week when the expected liability risk increases by 10 percent. The study, published in the new issue of the Journal of Law and Economics, notes that the decline in hours adds up to the equivalent of one of every 35 physicians retiring without a replacement.

"The effect of risk on hours worked might seem like a small item compared to physicians moving across state borders or avoiding high-risk specialties like obstetrics," said Showalter, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. "However, when you aggregate that across all , the total effect is quite large."

The analysis combined data gathered by insurers about medical liability risks in each state and medical specialty with physicians' responses to surveys about their workload and income.

When something changed the risk of medical liability - such as an adjustment in the maximum amount a jury could award in malpractice cases - doctors adjusted their workload. When liability risk went up, doctors saw fewer patients each week to minimize their chance of a lawsuit. When liability risk went down, doctors saw more patients each week.

The study also found that over 55 and those that have their own practices are far more sensitive to changes in liability risk.

Some state courts are currently considering legal challenges to existing malpractice caps. Missouri and Georgia, for example, limit or cap non-economic damages that compensate for pain and suffering to $350,000. Those caps are being contested by representatives of patients.

Despite the large effects, the research does not endorse a Republican proposal to place a nationwide cap on the size of jury awards in malpractice cases, the authors note.

"If the cost of providing medical care varies by state, why should we have a national, one-size-fits-all approach?" Showalter said. "The same cap would have very different effects in Kansas than in New York."

Explore further: Liver transplant recipient marks 25th anniversary

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Malpractice caps lure docs to Texas

Oct 05, 2007

Medical malpractice award caps in Texas have swollen the ranks of medical specialists and license applications at the state medical board, official said.

Report: Limiting medical lawsuits could save $41B

Oct 10, 2009

(AP) -- Limits on medical malpractice lawsuits would lead doctors to order up fewer unneeded tests and save taxpayers billions more than previously thought, budget umpires for Congress said Friday in a reversal that puts ...

Electronic health records may lower malpractice settlements

Nov 25, 2008

Use of electronic health records (EHRs) may help reduce paid malpractice settlements for physicians, according to a new study. The study, which appeared in the November 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, showed a tren ...

Health care dispute: Costs of defensive medicine

Nov 04, 2009

(AP) -- Dr. James Wang says he tries to tell his patients when extra medical procedures aren't necessary. If they insist, though, he will do it - not so much to protect their health as his own practice.

Recommended for you

Doctor behind 'free radical' aging theory dies

Nov 25, 2014

Dr. Denham Harman, a renowned scientist who developed the most widely accepted theory on aging that's now used to study cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses, has died in Nebraska at age 98.

Mexican boy who had massive tumor recovering

Nov 25, 2014

An 11-year-old Mexican boy who had pieces of a massive tumor removed and who drew international attention after U.S. officials helped him get treatment in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico is still recovering after ...

New medical device to make the mines safer

Nov 21, 2014

Dehydration can be a serious health issue for Australia's mining industry, but a new product to be developed with input from Flinders University's Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) is set to more effectively ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.