A new report shows surgery is not only a potentially risky experience for patients but also poses a threat to doctors when it comes to medical malpractice claims.

The study by insurer Coverys shows surgery-related claims, at 25%, are second only to diagnosis-related complaints, which account for nearly one out of every three lawsuits.

Report details five years of malpractice claims

Coverys analyzed nearly 2,600 medical malpractice cases from 2014 to 2018. The majority were filed over a doctor’s performance during surgery. Three specialties accounted for nearly half of all claims filed:

  • General surgery – 22%
  • Orthopedic surgery – 17%
  • Neurosurgery – 8%

Four of ten cases resulted in death or permanent injuries

Among the claims the insurer studied, 29% of the injuries sustained were considered permanent, and 9% of all patients died. A variety of allegations were made, including:

  • Lack of technical skill by the surgeon
  • Failure of clinical judgment and/or communication
  • Leaving a foreign object in the body
  • Unnecessary procedures
  • Operating on the wrong side or site of the patient
  • Delaying surgery

Researchers identify areas for improvement

The study’s authors say progress is needed at each stage of the surgical process, and they offered measures to help improve outcomes. First, they say doctors must do a better job to include patients in the decision-making process. Next, physicians must document informed consent discussions, including the patient’s response.

Also, researchers say more attention needs to be given to establishing a distraction-free environment in the operating room. This includes limiting unnecessary conversations, muting or turning off cellphones, avoid playing music and banning visitors and observers while the procedure is underway.