Characteristics of medical professional liability claims against dermatologists: data from 2704 closed claims in a voluntary registry

Alan N Moshell, Parul Divya Parikh, William J Oetgen
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2012, 66 (1): 78-85

BACKGROUND: The Physician Insurers Association of America established a voluntary registry in 1985 that contains 239,756 closed claims. The registry is maintained for educational programs to reduce patient injury and medical professional liability (MPL) claims.

OBJECTIVE: This report provides a description of MPL claims against dermatologists.

METHODS: Descriptive techniques are used to present summary information for the dermatologic claims in the registry.

RESULTS: Of 239,756 closed claims, 2704 (1.1%) involve dermatologists. Of the 2704 closed claims, 775 (28.7%) resulted in an average indemnity payment of $137,538. The most common allegation was improper procedure performance. The most prevalent procedure was operative procedures on the skin. Error in diagnosis was the next most common allegation. The most common diagnosis was malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma claims were paid in 42.2% of cases with an average indemnity payment of $436,843.

LIMITATIONS: The data are subject to selection and reporting biases. In addition, the registry does not contain exposure data, so incidences and prevalences are not calculable.

CONCLUSIONS: MPL issues are important to all practicing dermatologists. The most common allegation against dermatologists in this study was improper performance of operative procedures on the skin, excluding skin grafts. Error in diagnosis of malignant melanoma was the next most common allegation. Malignant melanoma claims were paid in 42.2% of cases with an average indemnity payment of $436,843. By focusing on the risk management of these procedures and this diagnosis, dermatologists can have the largest impact on reducing patient injuries and consequent MPL claims.

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