Poll Says Millions of Americans Have Lost Doctors Because of Liability Fears

July 6, 2005

Ten percent of Americans have lost their doctor to retirement or relocation because of the threat of lawsuits or high malpractice insurance premiums, according to a new poll conducted by Caravan Opinion Research on behalf of The Doctors Company, a physician-owned insurer.

“What we’ve learned is that millions of Americans have had to find new
doctors or don’t have the services they need readily available,” said Richard Anderson, M.D., chairman and CEO of the Napa, California-based insurer.

Nearly half of the Americans polled nationwide — 48 percent — place the blame for high insurance costs squarely on lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits, while medical error was cited as the main factor by only eight percent.

“That medical error is considered such a small factor by most Americans coincides with the fact that physicians are found to be blameless in almost 80 percent of malpractice claims,” Anderson said. He noted that while 22 percent cited insurance company profits as the reason for premium increases, Anderson said the reality is that almost three-quarters of doctors are insured by companies owned by the physicians themselves.

Anderson said a separate survey of the company’s policyholders discovered that two-thirds of physicians would be hesitant to recommend medicine to their children as a career because of the fear of lawsuits.

“We found that about two thirds of doctors who had parents in medicine were encouraged to follow them into practice,” Anderson said of the survey. “Today, the same percentage — two thirds — of doctors would discourage their children from a medical career. That’s the sign of a profession in crisis.

“It’s clear that doctors feel they have one foot in the courtroom every
time they treat a patient,” Anderson said, “and that’s why they are either leaving their practices or moving to states that have implemented reforms which offer greater protection against lawsuits.”

The poll was conducted via phone interviews with 1,000 Americans
nationwide and has a margin of error of 5 percent.

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