Study Analyzes Medical Malpractice Allegations Against Orthopedists

Research Indicates Patients and Physicians Must Work Together to Avoid Risks

Napa, California—August 27, 2015—A study issued today by The Doctors Company of closed malpractice claims against orthopedists underscores the joint responsibility of physicians and patients to reduce risks. The study of 1,895 claims against orthopedists that closed from 2007-2014 found that the three most common patient allegations were improper performance of surgery, improper management of the surgical patient, and diagnosis-related issues, such as failure or delay in diagnosis or wrong diagnosis. The claim of improper performance of surgery was often made by the patient when the outcome differed from the patient’s expectations.

“This study of claims brought against orthopedists sheds light on the wide array of issues that may arise during surgery and postoperative treatment,” said David B. Troxel, MD, medical director, The Doctors Company. “As the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer, we were able to analyze the collective experience of more than 2,100 orthopedists nationwide to provide unique insights that advance and protect the practice of good medicine. Our hope is that as orthopedists and hospital risk managers review the findings of this study, they will scrutinize their systems and processes to reduce the likelihood of adverse outcomes.”

Physicians within the specialty also reviewed the cases to look beyond what the patient alleged and determine the factors that led to injury. In orthopedic claims, the top five factors were technical performance, patient factors, selection and management of therapy, communication between patient/family and provider, and patient assessment issues, such as failure or delay in ordering diagnostic tests. In 29 percent of the cases, patient behaviors affected the outcome of care, when the patient did not follow the treatment plan or missed scheduled appointments.

“These findings make it clear that healthcare teams and patients need to partner to achieve better outcomes,” said Ralph A. Gambardella, MD, chairman and president of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “While improper performance of surgery was the top patient allegation, in most cases the risks had been disclosed to patients prior to the procedure, but the patient may not have understood. In nearly a third of claims, patients did not adhere to the treatment plan, and this behavior was more likely when there was inadequate communication. At our clinic, we will apply the results of this study to continually find new and innovative ways to improve communication with our patients both before and after surgery.”

About The Doctors Company
Founded and led by physicians, The Doctors Company ( is relentlessly committed to advancing, protecting, and rewarding the practice of good medicine. The Doctors Company is the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer, with 77,000 members and $4.3 billion in assets, and is rated A by A.M. Best Company and Fitch Ratings.

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