A new study reports that malpractice lawsuits cause significant emotional damage among U.S. surgeons.
Researchers found the litigation takes a profound personal toll on the surgeon, resulting in emotional exhaustion, stress, and professional dissatisfaction.
Researchers examined personal and professional characteristics and found malpractice lawsuits were strongly and independently linked to surgeon depression and career burnout.
The stress caused by malpractice litigation was rated as equivalent to that of financial worries, pressure to succeed in research, work/home conflicts, and coping with patients’ suffering and death.
Investigators discovered surgeons who experienced a recent malpractice lawsuit reported less career satisfaction and were less likely to recommend a surgical or medical career to their children or others.
In the study, the surgical specialties reporting the highest rates of malpractice lawsuits over the past two years were neurosurgery (31 percent), cardiothoracic surgery (29 percent), general surgery (28 percent), colorectal surgery (28 percent), and obstetric and gynecologic surgery (28 percent).
Surgical specialties reporting the lowest rate of malpractice lawsuits include otolaryngology (12 percent), ophthalmology (12 percent) and breast surgery (14 percent).
“The frequency of malpractice lawsuits and the adverse associations they have significantly impact surgeons’ personal health, yet these consequences are often poorly understood,” said Charles M. Balch, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S.
“The purpose of this study was to examine these repercussions more closely and pave the way for additional research to identify individual, organizational and societal interventions to support surgeons who experience malpractice litigation.”
Of the 25,073 surgeons sampled in the study, 7,164 responded to the survey.
Investigators discovered that 24.6 percent of respondents (1,764 surgeons) experienced a malpractice action within 24 months prior to the survey. Compared with surgeons not involved in a malpractice lawsuit, those involved were more likely to be younger, male, work more hours per week, have frequent night calls, and be in private practice (p < 0.0001 for all).
Anonymous and blinded survey results were analyzed to better understand the factors that contribute to personal consequences among surgeons.
The survey included approximately 60 questions on a wide range of variables, including demographic information, practice characteristics, burnout, quality of life, symptoms of depression and career satisfaction.
In the U.S., approximately 40 percent of all physicians, including surgeons have been sued for malpractice during the course of their careers.
In 2008, annual medical liability system costs, including defensive medicine, were estimated at $55.6 billion, or 2.4 percent of total health care spending.
According to a study by malpractice liability insurers, despite the high cost of this system, a majority of malpractice claims are without merit, and nearly two-thirds of claims are dropped, withdrawn or dismissed.
Study authors conclude that a significant flaw in the system is the time that it takes to resolve claims and litigation as the average resolution process takes five years – a period during which the physician is subject to ongoing stress.
The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
Source: Weber Shandwick Worldwide