SOURCE: The Gazette

Most cardiologists have been implicated in a malpractice lawsuit, according to Medscape’s annual Cardiologist Malpractice Report, and in many cases the litigation causes them to stop trusting their patients.

For this year’s Malpractice Report, Medscape asked more than 4,300 physicians in over 25 specialties whether they’d been sued, why they were sued, what happened and how that experience affected the way they practice medicine. Nearly two-thirds of cardiologists said they’d been named in at least one malpractice lawsuit—18% of whom said they were the only person named in the suit. Just 35% said they’d never been implicated.

Wrongful death and complications from treatment or surgery were tied as the number-one reason for malpractice suits, according to the report, accounting for 34% each of the total pool. Other common reasons were failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis (27%), poor outcome or disease progression (25%) and failure to treat or delayed treatment (23%); abnormal injuries, poor documentation and errors in medication administration prompted legal action more rarely.

“There’s a whole host of what you could call psychological factors that can contribute to the filing of a claim,” David S. Szabo, Esq., a malpractice lawyer with Locke Lord, LLP, in Boston, said in the report. “These can occur when a patient perceives a breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship or is pretty certain that there’s been a mistake, and they feel like they’ve been shut out of productive conversation with their healthcare provider or providers.”

It’s not shocking, then, that 57% of cardiologists surveyed said they were “very surprised” when they were implicated in a malpractice suit. Another 28% said they were somewhat surprised, while 16% said they weren’t shocked at all.

The vast majority of physicians—86%—reported they didn’t think the lawsuit was warranted, and half said there wasn’t any trigger incident that sparked the litigation. Thirty percent of cases were settled before they reached trial, and in 17% of cases the judge or jury returned a verdict in the cardiologist’s favor. Just three percent of cases ended in the plaintiff’s favor.

Ultimately, 67% of physicians said they think most malpractice lawsuits occur because “patients blame bad outcomes on doctors because they don’t understand medical risks.” Another 62% said patients who were injured from medical errors are seeking restitution or looking to assign blame. A little over half of cardiologists said the lawsuit didn’t change anything for them, but 34% said they no longer trust their patients and treat them differently.

To discourage future lawsuits, most cardiologists (51%) recommend making the plaintiff responsible for the attorney and legal fees of every party involved if they lose or having a medical panel screen cases for merit (50%). Fifty-four percent said medical organizations and societies aren’t doing enough to discourage lawsuits and “should be doing more.”

Find Medscape’s full report here.