Dr. Richard E. Anderson, Chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, the largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer in the United States, was recently interviewed and provided the following insights, from his perspective:
Q: Health care workers were on the front lines during the pandemic. How did that affect your claims experience?
A: We had fewer claims in 2020 than we expected by about 20%. The reason for that is threefold: One, of course, is the heroic work done by physicians, clinicians and all frontline hospital and office medical workers; the second is that there were broad COVID immunities in the majority of states, so physicians were immunized against COVID-related claims; and third, the whole health care system was disrupted by COVID so most “routine” care was delayed, deferred or disrupted.
Our experience at this point in 2021 is that our expected claims are pretty much back at the point that we would have expected to see them as the legal process has opened up. On the other hand, we have not yet experienced any surge in claims.
The other long-term issue for our members is burnout.
Q: How does burnout affect med mal coverage?
A: … Electronic health care records have added hours a day to the worktime of an average physician. Many physicians find that they can’t accommodate the clerical aspects of the EHRs in the office, so they come home, have dinner and then spend several hours online updating their records.
The amount of paperwork that physicians have been asked to do over the past 10 or 15 years is choking the practice of medicine. That’s compounded by the production-related environment of medicine, with requirements to see so many patients a day.
Doctors are being starved of time to do the things that we as patients want them to do. That leads to disappointed patients, can lead to adverse events, and those lead to malpractice suits.
Q: How is the increased use of telehealth affecting the sector?
A: Telehealth is here to stay. During the pandemic we went from 1% to 2% of clinical visits being telehealth to a peak of about 70%. My guess is that telehealth will stabilize at something like 20% to 30% of all clinical visits. At the moment, there are two issues: the absence of physical contact and a physical examination and determining how much of telehealth is necessary care or are we giving greater access to unnecessary care. Despite the dramatic increase in telehealth, emergency room visits have not gone down in the U.S. …
Q: Like in many other areas, rates are going up in med mal, what’s driving that?
A: The single biggest factor is severity. We are not seeing more claims than we expected but the cost of claims is going up. Most medical professional liability carriers are paying more in claims costs and overhead than they are receiving in premium. Historically, we could make up some of that gap with investment income, but it’s very hard to do that with low interest rates …
Q: What steps can health care providers take to improve their risk profiles?
A: One is to be present for patients, not being distracted or burned out. Focus on the problems that the patient is presenting with. Two is to think systematically. A really good integrated delivery system has checks and balances, so if you order a consultation or you order some lab work, there’s a system or flag that says you ordered these results and you haven’t gotten them, or pay attention because this one is abnormal. Those kinds of things are really important and in this environment where doctors are asked to see large numbers of patients in a day it’s easy for those kinds of things to fall through cracks.
It’s about taking a systematic look at what you are doing and a personal look at what you are doing and how you are feeling.
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical negligence in the United States, you should promptly find a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.