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What Are the Most Common Medical Malpractice Areas?

July 6, 2022

Research has shown that some medical specialty areas have higher medical malpractice rates than others. For patients and family members, knowing which areas have the highest malpractice rates can be helpful for making informed decisions—especially when there are concerns about the quality of care you or a loved one received.

Studies have also shown that malpractice is a risk in all medical specialties. As a result, even if you or your loved one did not receive treatment in one of the highest-risk specialty areas, you should not dismiss your concerns. You could very well have a medical malpractice claim; and, if you do, you will want to make sure you seek the financial compensation you and your family deserve.

At Coplan + Crane, our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers have seen the trauma and hardships that medical mistakes can inflict on victims and their families. If you or someone dear suffered at the hands of a medical professional, we want to hear your story.

Specialty Areas with the Highest Numbers of Successful Medical Malpractice Claims

One of the most frequently cited studies on the prevalence of medical malpractice claims is a study titled, Rates and Characteristics of Paid Malpractice Claims Among US Physicians by Specialty, 1992-2014, which was published in 2017. According to the authors, the following specialty areas had the highest numbers of compensated medical malpractice claims during the study period:

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology (39,897 paid claims)
  • General Surgery (26,423 paid claims)
  • Family Medicine (24,962 paid claims)
  • Internal Medicine (23,401 paid claims)
  • Orthopedics (22,231 paid claims)
  • Radiology (13,760 paid claims)
  • Emergency Medicine (11,574 paid claims)
  • Anesthesiology (10,246 paid claims)

All other specialty areas had less than 10,000 paid claims during the study period. Rounding out the top 10, the three specialties with the next highest numbers of paid claims were cardiology (7,759 paid claims), pediatrics (7.516 paid claims), and plastic surgery (7,352 paid claims). 

The study also examined the specialty areas with the highest numbers of paid claims per 1,000 physician-years. Interestingly, the specialties with the highest total paid claim numbers and those with the highest rate of successful claims do not closely align. The specialty areas with the highest rates of successful claims according to the study are:

  • Neurosurgery (53.1 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)
  • Plastic surgery (48.5 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)
  • Thoracic surgery (46.7 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology (42.5 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)
  • Orthopedics (40.9 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)
  • Colon and Rectal Surgery (34.1 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)
  • General Surgery (30.0 paid claims per 1,000 physician-years)

Another often-cited study on the prevalence of medical malpractice across specialty areas was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011. This study, titled Malpractice Risk According to Physician Specialty, found that the following specialty areas had the highest percentage of physicians with at least one medical malpractice claim annually:

  • General Surgery
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Thoracic-Cardiovascular Surgery
  • Gynecology
  • Neurosurgery
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Urology

As you can see, there is a significant amount of consistency between the two studies’ findings, although their results are not entirely aligned. The same is true on the opposite end of the spectrum. Combining the two studies’ findings, some of the specialty areas with the lowest rates of successful medical malpractice rates are:

  • Dermatology 
  • Internal Medicine
  • Nephrology 
  • Neurology 
  • Pathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry

Areas of Medical Practice with the Most Malpractice Claims

Across all specialties, certain areas of practice have much higher rates of medical malpractice claims than others. For example, five of the most common types of medical malpractice claims are those involving: 

Diagnostic Errors

Diagnostic errors include misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and delayed diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is widely recognized as the single most common form of medical malpractice. 

Surgical Errors

Across all surgical specialties, common forms of medical malpractice include causing internal injuries during surgery, failing to remedy the patient’s condition, failing to prevent infections, and leaving foreign objects in the patient’s body.

Medication Errors 

Medication errors are also extremely common. These errors include overdosing, underdosing, prescribing inappropriate medications, and failing to consider potential side effects and other contraindications. 

Failure to Treat 

In many cases, patients suffer unnecessarily because their healthcare providers simply fail to treat their conditions. Whether due to misdiagnosis, triage errors, or poor facility administration, failure to treat is a standalone form of medical malpractice for which patients and families can—and should—seek financial compensation. 

Failure to Monitor

Failure to monitor is a common form of medical malpractice as well. When a patient is at risk for complications or deterioration, adequate monitoring is essential so that the patient can receive treatment when necessary. 

Speak with a Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Free

If you believe that you may have a medical malpractice claim in Illinois, we encourage you to contact our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys for more information.

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