Statistics for the rate of Physician Assistant (“PA”) malpractice claims between 1991 and 2007 indicate that medical malpractice payments made on behalf of PAs were one-half of the rate of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of physicians. The probability of a PA making a medical malpractice payment for the same period was 12 times less than for physicians.
The most frequent claim against PAs for medical malpractice involved missed diagnosis (which was the leading cause for malpractice claims against physicians, too). Medical malpractice claims paid on behalf of female PAs were higher than for male PAs. The rate of medical malpractice payments for PAs has been steady and consistent, taking into consideration the growth in the number of PAs.
As of 2005, less than one percent of all medical malpractice payments reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (“NPDB”) were related to medical malpractice claims against physician assistants, with diagnosis-related and treatment-related claims representing the greatest number of claims (80.1%).
Between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 2007, there were 1,535 reports regarding PAs filed with the NPDB, compared to 320,034 reports regarding physicians. The total dollar amount of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of PAs was 0.003% of the total medical malpractice payments made for all providers (the total for all providers exceeded $74 billion for those years). The adjusted mean payment made on behalf of physicians was 1.7 times greater than for PAs; the adjusted median payment made on behalf of physicians was 1.9 times greater than for PAs. However, the increase in inflation-adjusted payments per year for physicians was lower than the increase for PAs ($5,620 per year for physicians compared to $8,993 per year for PAs).
Between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 2007, the number of medical malpractice reports regarding PAs filed with the NPDB increased, with 81 in 2001, 123 in 2002, and peaking with 135 in 2004, after which the numbers decreased from 2004 to 2007. There was one report filed with the NPDB for every 32.5 active PAs (compared to one report for every 2.7 active physicians). Assuming one medical malpractice payment per provider, 3.1% of PAs made a malpractice payment during the 17-year period (compared to 37% of physicians).
The top five medical malpractice claims against PAs involved diagnosis (55.5%), treatment (24.6%), medication (8.5%), surgery (4.6%), and miscellaneous (3.1%). For physicians, the top five medical malpractice claims involved diagnosis (33.9%), surgery (27.1%), treatment (18.0%), obstetrics (8.6%), and medication (5.5%). (In 2007, 0.3% of PAs were employed in anesthesia and 2.4% were employed in obstetrics and gynecology.) Medications errors commonly involved the improper management of medication regimen or improper technique.
PAs are licensed to practice and prescribe in all U.S. states. The number of active PAs in the United States increased from 20,628 in 1991 to 68,124 in 2007 (an increase of 230%) (the number of physicians increased by 14.8% between 1991 and 2006). PAs are compensated for their services by Medicare, Medicaid, and most health insurance companies.
As the number of practicing PAs in the United States continues to rise, and as the use of PAs in providing direct medical care to patients in place of physician-provided care increases, we expect that medical malpractice claims against physician assistants will increase accordingly.
If you or a family member have been injured due to possible physician assistant medical malpractice in the United States, it is important that you promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your PA malpractice claim for you and file a medical malpractice claim against a PA on your behalf, if appropriate.
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