WASHINGTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Failure to diagnose and a failure to treat in a timely manner were the two most commonly alleged malpractice claims in an analysis of rheumatic disease–related cases presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

The study of 20 rheumatic disease cases during a 31-year period is thought by the investigators to be the first analysis of malpractice litigation in rheumatology.

“This study was meant to give a snapshot of some of the litigation in rheumatology,” first author Arpan Prabhu, a third-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an interview.

Rheumatologists accounted for one-third of all named defendants in the 20 cases, which constituted a convenience sample. They excluded 10 cases because of duplication or lack of relevance to rheumatology. They searched the online legal database WestLaw using the terms “rheumatology” and “medical malpractice” to find all state and federal jury verdicts and settlements related to rheumatology during 1985-2015. The 20 cases occurred in 10 states. The plaintiffs had a mean age of about 52 years, and 45% were female.

Plaintiffs in the medical malpractice suits won only four of the cases, but those had a mean payout of about $2.78 million, which Mr. Prabhu described as lower than what’s been reported in other specialties that he and his colleagues are investigating, such as oncology and neurosurgery. The jury found in favor of the defendant in 12 of the cases, and in 3 cases the parties reached a settlement in which most payouts were not disclosed. The verdict was undisclosed in one case.

Mr. Prabhu said that the investigators discovered an additional 34 cases in their search of the database that they plan on characterizing in another study.

The researchers reported having no relevant financial disclosures.


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