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What We can Learn from Recurring Themes in Pediatric Malpractice Claims?

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Exploring Revealing Trends in Claims Against Medical Professionals for Negligent Care of Children

A study titled “Trends in Pediatric Malpractice Claims 1987-2015: Results From the Periodic Survey of Fellows,” which appeared in the American Academy of Pediatrics in April 2020, reviewed the malpractice trends involving pediatricians over 28 years. Steven A. Bondi, JD, MD, et al. conducted seven surveys over nearly three decades by asking participants seven questions regarding malpractice claims and recorded other demographics in the study. The results raise awareness about patient safety and problem areas for hospital administrators and safety commissions to address.

How was the Study of Pediatric Malpractice Claims Conducted?

The researchers reviewed insurance company claims and the National Practitioner Data Bank for their study. They also collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Medical Liability and Risk Management to conduct the surveys. The Periodic Survey of Fellows is a survey AAP conducts on randomly chosen pediatricians to probe pediatrician issues, which AAP has used over the last 30 years. Researchers tapped into AAP Periodic Survey resources to complete this malpractice survey. The object of the study was to chart the malpractice claim rate and outcomes from 1987 to 2015, including which pediatricians were subjects of malpractice claims or suits and how much insurance carriers paid out.

What were Some of the Important Areas for Investigation?

During the operative period, surveyors examined data collected from seven survey responses of non-retired AAP members in the US. An average of 58% responded to the surveys, totaling 5,731 completed surveys. The questions include whether the respondent had been subject to a malpractice lawsuit or claim and the outcome of the latest malpractice claim or suit. And for those who were malpractice subjects, surveys asked whether they lost after trial, the plaintiff did not pursue the claim, the action or claim is ongoing, the claim or suit settled out of court, or the plaintiff won at trial.

What Characteristics of Respondents were Looked At?

The surveyors also asked respondents the amount of indemnity paid by the malpractice insurer for successful plaintiff suits and settlements out of court. Aside from malpractice claims and lawsuit data, the study researchers tracked the year, gender, and practice years of the subjects and their subspecialty (at least half their time in general pediatrics, emergency, neonatology, critical care, administration, etc.), location (rural or urban), and weekly workload hours. Thus, six factors quantified the responses: survey year, career length, physician sex, subspecialty, workload, and location.

What are Some of the Prevailing Themes in Medical Negligence for Pediatrics?

As a preamble to the study, the researchers noted that pediatricians are somewhat less likely than other medical providers to be sued for malpractice. However, when a patient successfully sues a pediatrician, the plaintiff’s award is higher than those against other physician specialists. The study results show that the median indemnity of $128,000.00, meaning the money paid out by insurance carriers, held steady for 30 years. However, the study also found that male pediatricians and specialists working out of hospitals in neonatology, pediatric critical care, emergency pediatrics, and hospital medicine are more likely to be sued.

What were Some of the Factors Associated With Malpractice Risks and Outcomes?

As one explanation for why male pediatricians get sued more, the study noted that female pediatricians communicate with patients more, and better communication with patients correlated to lower malpractice risks. Also, the study found that those with longer careers and working hours are more likely to face malpractice claims. Longer hours also result in increased medical errors and patient safety risks. However, those in rural areas were less susceptible than those in urban areas.

What were Some of the Critical Findings?

Of those surveyed, an average of 27.8% (1,580 respondents) stated they had at least one claim or lawsuit filed against them, with the lowest number recorded in 2015 at 21.4%, which is the lowest number since the peak in 1990 at 33%. 95.8% of those reported as subjects of malpractice claims or suits provided information regarding the latest claim or action. Of those, 45.8% (on average) reported successful outcomes, 34.3% reported unsuccessful results, and 19.8% reported ongoing claims or suits. 58% of the doctors in 2015 reported success against the claims.

In sum, the number of malpractice lawsuits filed against pediatricians from 1987 to 2015 decreased. The unfavorable outcome rate stayed at 34%, and the rate of trial losses remained at 1.5%.

How is this Helpful?

The significance of the study is to provide a better understanding of how and why pediatric malpractice actions occur to inform pediatric practices and risk management advisers who wish to improve safety and quality medical reform. The study authors claim the statistical data highlighting pediatrician factors that affect the rise in claims is helpful for oversight and improvement.

In addition, a profile of who is more likely to be involved in a pediatric malpractice incident is helpful to the public. For parents suffering the tragic loss of their children due to wrongful death or detrimental impacts on their children’s health by a pediatrician’s negligence, this study may provide powerful implications to bolster settlement offers to malpractice carriers. Questions to a pediatrician accused of malpractice may concern their years in practice, weekly hours worked, and location. Thus, a male hospital neonatologist who habitually works long hours in a lengthy career may be a more likely profile of one who made mistakes in patient care. However, it is important to keep in mind that all medical professionals can make errors and commit negligence when diagnosing, treating, and providing ongoing healthcare for children.

What Does this Mean for Parents and their Children?

When a pediatrician or another healthcare provider is negligent, especially with respect to a newborn, the results are devastating. As the study confirms, pediatric malpractice outcomes may be rarer, but the payouts to plaintiffs are higher. One reason is that younger patients require longer medical care, treatment, and therapy than older patients. They need extended support, and their future lost potential for ordinary life and daily life adaptations when the injury is severe can be catastrophic and exceedingly costly. As such, if a pediatrician, hospital, pharmacist, obstetrician, or other specialist injured your child through their negligence, it is imperative that you contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer dedicated to working with pediatric cases.

Contact a pediatric malpractice attorney on our New Jersey legal team at (866)-708-8617 for assistance pursuing compensation for your child’s current and future medical, emotional, and financial damages, as well as yours. Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers committed to pediatric negligence claims have handled numerous birth injury and pediatric malpractice lawsuits, having gained valuable knowledge about medical terminology, malpractice defendants, medical experts, compensable losses associated with pediatric malpractice, and litigation in the field. We can prepare you for settlement negotiations or pursuing a successful jury verdict at a trial. By law, you are entitled to compensation for your child when someone is found negligent or agrees to pay damages to settle a claim. We offer free case evaluations and consultations, so please do not hesitate to contact us 24/7.

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