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1% of doctors pay 33% of medical malpractice claims

Read enough news stories about medical malpractice lawsuits, and you might get the impression that the U.S. medical system is infested with thousands of bad doctors who harm their patients all the time. The truth is, the vast majority of physicians and other medical professionals are very good at their jobs. They are highly skilled, keep up on the latest innovations and care deeply about their patients.

A new study suggests that a few (very) bad apples are spoiling the whole barrel, when it comes to the reputation of the health care community. Researchers at Stanford have come to the conclusion that nearly a third of all successful medical malpractice claims are made against just 1 percent of U.S. doctors, NPR reports.

Going beyond this rather surprising statistic, researchers went deeper into the data they examined, which came from more than 66,000 malpractice claims paid by 54,000 physicians between 2005 and 2014. They found that doctors who lost a claim were overwhelmingly male, and tended to be older. Most claims were against four types of doctors, internists, OB/GYNs, surgeons and doctors in general or family practice.

Most importantly, the Stanford researchers found that doctors who have paid off a malpractice claim, either via settlement or a court verdict, are likely to be accused of malpractice again. And the more payments they have in their past, the more likely they are to have to pay again in the future.

Of the claims that resulted in payment, a third resulted in death and another 54 percent caused serious injury, so payments for dubious claims were relatively few. And for patients, the odds are very good that their physician is not among the 1 percent that appears to make up the worst of the medical profession.

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