Purpose: This study was undertaken to clarify which, if any, physician demographic characteristics are associated with an increased rate of medical malpractice claims.
Methods: We analyzed the malpractice experience of 9,250 physicians insured for at least 2 years from 1977 to 1987 in the state of New Jersey. After adjusting for years at risk, physician claims per year was categorized into low, medium, and high.
Results: Male physicians were three times as likely to be in the high-claims group as female physicians, even after adjusting for other demographic variables (relative risk, 3.1; 99% confidence interval, 2.2 to 4.4). Specialty was strongly associated with claims rate, with neurosurgery, orthopedics, and obstetrics/gynecology having 7 to 12 times the number of claims per year as psychiatry, the specialty with the fewest claims. The rate of claims varied with age (p < 0.001) and peaked at approximately age 40. No association was evident between claims rate and a physician's site of training or type of degree.
Conclusion: Male physicians are three times as likely to be in a high-claims category as female physicians. We suspect that the most likely explanation for this finding is that women interact more effectively with patients. Understanding the reasons for the variation in claim rates between physicians may lead to the development of methods to reduce the overall rate of malpractice claims.