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The Leading Reasons for Medical Malpractice Claims Against Primary Care Physicians

“Research published in BMC Open cites misdiagnoses and prescription errors as the top two reasons for a medical malpractice claim in the primary care setting”

According to a recent study, between 26 and 63 percent of medical malpractice claims made against primary care physicians were related to misdiagnoses. This makes incorrect diagnoses the leading cause of such cases. The second most common reason for a lawsuit was prescription or medication errors.

Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open suggests that in adults, the most common missed or delayed diagnoses were related to cancer and ailments of the circulatory system, namely heart attacks. This comes as no surprise, as heart disease and cancers are the two most prevalent ailments in the country. Other frequently cited misdiagnoses for adults included appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, and fractures.

For children, meningitis, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, appendicitis, sepsis, and malignancy appear to be the most common conditions resulting in medical malpractice claims in the primary care setting.

Prescription errors were the second most common cause of malpractice cases, accounting for 5.6% to 20% of all filed claims. Prescribing mistakes, administering inappropriate medication, quantity dispensing errors, and adverse drug reactions are common processes that result in medication errors.

Two studies reported medication classes such as steroid preparations, antibiotics, anticoagulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. One study reviewed claims resulting from adverse drug events and found that 27% of primary care instances were completely preventable.

In the USA, a review of almost 5000 family practice malpractice claims reported mean payments of $253,739.69 and median payments of $119,389.20. Understanding malpractice suits can help doctors identify future situations that may result in adverse events for patients, which, in turn, can improve medical care. Many forget that ultimately, that is the purpose of medical malpractice lawsuits — to improve patient care and well-being.