Even the best Boston doctors can make serious mistakes that lead to the injury or death of a patient. Many patients are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and file medical malpractice suits to hold physicians accountable for medical negligence such as surgical errors. A recent study released this week in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that most doctors will be involved in medical malpractice litigation during their careers. Approximately a fifth of the medical malpractice lawsuits filed yield damage awards.

“Doctors get sued far more frequently than anyone would have thought, and in some specialties, it’s extremely high,” said Amitabh Chandra, an author of the study. “In some sense, the payment is the least important part, because you can insure against it, but you can’t insure against the hassle cost.”

Although some doctors may view a medical malpractice lawsuit as a hassle, life with the injuries arising out of a medical malpractice incident or the grief of losing a loved one to a doctor’s negligence has a far higher hassle cost.

The study was conducted by Harvard professors and examines medical lawsuit data ranging from 1991 to 2005. Of the 41,000 doctors sued, approximately 1.6 cases resulted in payment every year.

Not all physicians were at the same risk for medical malpractice lawsuits however. Doctors involved in highly complicated and risky procedures almost always faced lawsuits for malpractice before the age of 65. Neurosurgeons and obstetricians were among the most likely physicians to be sued for malpractice. Doctors that focused on areas such as family medicine faced a lower risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Over their careers, most doctors in US will face lawsuit,” Chelsea Conaboy, Aug. 19, 2011