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Most malpractice claims over missed diagnoses

19 July 2013

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Missed diagnoses and drug errors make up the bulk of malpractice claims brought against general practitioners, an international study has found. 

The researchers looked through the number and causes of malpractice claims in primary care research papers from April 2012 to January 2013. 

Missed diagnoses were the most common source of malpractice claims, accounting for between a quarter (26%) and almost two thirds (63%) of the total. And the most common consequence of this in the claims filed was death, ranging from 15% to 48% of claims made for missed diagnoses.

The second most common sources of malpractice claims were drug errors, which ranged from 5.6% to 20% of all claims across all the studies.

UK GPs had the greatest proportion of malpractice claims of all medical practitioners, with a 20% increase in malpractice claims between 2009 and 2010, with claims against them more than doubling between 1994 and 1999. 

Fifteen of the studies analysed by researchers at the Irish Centre for Primary Care Research were based in the US, nine from the UK, seven in Australia, two in France and one in Canada. 

The authors said it may be “difficult” to generalise their findings as the term ‘primary care’ does not mean the same thing in all the countries studied, and none of the healthcare systems is the same. 

Using legal claims as a proxy for adverse events also has its limitations, they added.

But they point out that the threat of litigation can result in “defensive medicine” and over diagnosis and treatment, and that doctors who find themselves on the end of a malpractice claim, often find the process very distressing.

The full study is available to view on the BMJ Open website