Malpractice Claims Consume Years 
of a Physician’s Career

On average, each physician spends 50.7 months, or approximately 11 percent of an average 40-year career, on resolving medical malpractice cases—the majority of which end up with no indemnity payment. That’s the conclusion of a study1 by the RAND Corporation based on data provided by The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer. Researchers found that 70 percent of the time physicians spend on claims is spent defending claims that end in no payment to the plaintiff.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Physicians experience additional stress, work, and reputational damage from the time spent defending claims.
  • Fighting claims takes time away from practicing medicine and from the opportunity for the physician to learn from his or her medical errors.
  • The lengthy time required to resolve claims also negatively impacts patients and their families.

The effect of malpractice claims on physicians’ careers is discussed further by Richard E. Anderson, MD, FACP, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, in two short videos that can be viewed at

To help prevent claims that can take up years of your career, follow these key tips to promote patient safety:

  1. Communicate with Patients
    • Understand the new vital sign: health literacy.
    • Do not ask patients if they understand—instead, ask them to repeat back the information.
    • Document patient understanding of instructions.
    • Provide the patient with written instructions.
    • Use a translator when necessary.
  2. Document Carefully and Objectively
    • Do not point fingers at other staff or providers.
    • Do not impeach the integrity of the medical record by altering it.
    • Use only approved abbreviations.
    • Review patient information that is automatically populated in the EMR.
  3. Monitor Handoffs and Ensure Follow-ups
    • Establish a formal tracking system for missed appointments.
    • Follow up with patients to reschedule.
    • Document missed appointments in the patient record.
    • Send a letter to patients who repeatedly miss appointments.
    • Explain the importance of follow-up care.
    • Refer the patient to another physician, if necessary.
  4. Avoid Medication Errors
    • Keep prescription pads secure.
    • Document samples in the medical record.
    • Check allergies at every visit and document in the same place in the record.
    • Review and reconcile medications at every patient visit.
    • Be aware of LASA (look-alike/sound-alike) medications.
  5. Follow HIPAA Regulations
    • Avoid unauthorized release or breaches of PHI (protected health information).
    • Safeguard against lost or stolen PHI through laptops or drives.
    • Examine office practices and layout that may compromise confidentiality.
    • Assess your methods to protect electronic communications.
    • Follow federal requirements and know your state regulations, which may be stricter.


1. Seabury SA, Chandra A, Lakdawalla DN, Jena AB. On average, physicians spend nearly 11 percent of their 40-year careers with an open, unresolved malpractice claim. Health Affairs. 2013;32(1):1-9. 

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.