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West J Med. 1997 Jan;166(1):37-44.

Characteristics of surgeons with high and low malpractice claims rates.

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Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, School of Medicine, San Francisco, USA.


We studied the relationship of malpractice claims and the personal, educational, and practice characteristics of a sample of surgeons (n = 427). The surgeons were members of a physician-owned malpractice trust and represented all those who had fewer than 0.13 malpractice claims per year and those with more than 0.54 claims per year. Data are reported separately for orthopedic surgeons (148), obstetrician-gynecologists (115), and a mixed group of other surgeons (164). The last group included otolaryngologists, neurosurgeons, and general, vascular, thoracic, and plastic surgeons. We studied the relationship between the number of malpractice claims (ranging from no history of claims to those terminated from the trust because of high rates of claims) and the surgeon's personal, educational, and practice characteristics. The major differences were between the surgeons who were terminated because of a high number of claims and those with few or no claims. Terminated surgeons were less likely to have completed a fellowship, belong to a clinical faculty, be members of professional societies, be graduates of an American or Canadian medical school, have specialty board certification, or be in a group practice. The data also suggest that orthopedists with high numbers of claims may be less likely to have a religious affiliation or to have a registered nurse working in their office practice. These findings suggest that surgeons with lower claim rates may be more likely to manifest exemplary modes of professional peer relationships and responsible clinical behavior.

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