MALPRACTICE CLAIMS TIED TO MISCONDUCT IN NEW YORK STUDY

MALPRACTICE CLAIMS TIED TO MISCONDUCT IN NEW YORK STUDY

Physicians in New York with several malpractice court suits filed against them are good candidates for state investigations into possible violation of state medical conduct rules, a state Health Department study says.

An analysis of medical malpractice claims filed against New York doctors between 1980 and 1983 showed that the fact a doctor had six or more malpractice claims filed against him would in itself warrant consideration of investigation for misconduct.The study said there's long been uncertainty about the relationship, if any, between malpractice claims filed in court against doctors and the administrative misconduct investigations handled by the state Health Department's Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

According to state statistics, of the doctors in New York who had six or more malpractice cases closed between 1980 and 1983, 25 percent or 10 of 40 doctors were charged with misconduct by the state. That compares to the 1.6 percent of state's 50,000 physicians who were disciplined by the state in 1987.

We think we can use that statistic when deciding good candidates to investigate for misconduct, said Peter Slocum, a Health Department spokesman, of those doctors hit with several malpractice claims.

The state can punish doctors in several different ways, including fines, license suspensions and license revocations.

Among the other findings of the state report on medical malpractice and misconduct cases in New York were:

* Specialists in obstetrics and gynecology are the kinds of doctors most frequently sued for malpractice, accounting for 16 percent of the total claims

closed between 1980-83. They were closely followed by general practicioners at 15.8 percent of all malpractice claims and general surgeons at 14.8 percent.

When it came to the $343 million paid out in awards during those years, obstetrics and gynecology accounted for $70.3 million or 20.5 percent of the total. General practicioners were responsible for $49.6 million or 14.5 percent of the total.

* Neurosurgeons were most likely to have paid claims with nearly 58 percent of those closing cases having been found liable for an award. Other frequent-payers were obstetricians-gynecologists (57 percent), orthopedic surgeons (56 percent) and general practicioners (53 percent).

The specialists who had to pay awards less frequently included dermatologists (35 percent), psychiatrists (38 percent) and radiologists (42 percent).

* Cases involving Cesarean section deliveries in which grave permanent injuries were suffered resulted in the highest mean award from malpractice litigation in New York at $213,401.

* There were 9,268 malpractice claims made against doctors for 1980-83, 4,305 of which resulted in cash awards. Only 16 of those awards was larger than $1 million, the study found.

* It took nearly six years from the time of medical treatment to the time a claim was settled to work out a malpractice case in the state.

* The frequency of misconduct disciplinary actions against doctors continues to rise. The Office of Professional Medical Conduct took disciplinary action 297 times in 1987, compared to 206 times in 1986, 83 times in 1985 and 75 times in 1984.

Mr. Slocum said increasing allocations from the state Legislature to boost the office's investigatory capabilities have accounted for the increase, rather than more frequent instances of misconduct among doctors.

I think we're getting better at finding them, he said.