Docs hit with fewer malpractice suits as COVID lockdowns curtailed procedures

by Susan Kreimer | November 23, 2021

U.S. physicians saw a decline in malpractice lawsuits during the pandemic, likely the result of performing fewer procedures during lockdown, according to the Medscape Malpractice Report 2021.

A total of 4,358 doctors across 29 specialties participated in the 10-minute online Medscape member survey, conducted from May 21 through Aug. 28 this year.

In the past year, 42% of primary care physicians were sued, down from 52% in 2019, the most recent year of the survey. Likewise, specialists saw a decrease in lawsuits, with 56% being sued in 2020 through mid-2021, compared to 62% in 2019, according to the report.

However, in 2021, plastic surgeons and general surgeons were sued the most (83%), followed by orthopedists (81%) and urologists (80%).

“Outside circumstances do play a role in the amount of lawsuits,” the report’s author, Leslie Kane, senior director at Medscape Business of Medicine, told Fierce Healthcare. “One of the phenomena noted during COVID was that people were on Zoom meetings, often for hours a day, and had time to look at their faces in-depth and detail. This definitely led to a larger demand for plastic surgery and more potential for lawsuits.” 

About half of all U.S. doctors have been sued at least once, exacting a heavy burden on their time, reputation and emotional health, no matter the outcome. Most often, the suits allege failure to diagnose medical problems at all or in a timely fashion or to treat complications following a procedure.


Chris J. Stewart

Chris currently serves as President and CEO of Surgio Health. Chris has close to 20 years of healthcare management experience, with an infinity to improve healthcare delivery through the development and implementation of innovative solutions that result in improved efficiencies, reduction of unnecessary financial & clinical variation, and help achieve better patient outcomes. Previously, Chris was assistant vice president and business unit leader for HPG/HCA. He has presented at numerous healthcare forums on topics that include disruptive innovation, physician engagement, shifting reimbursement models, cost per clinical episode and the future of supply chain delivery.

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