Malpractice Allegations Against Vascular Surgeons: Prevalence, Risk Factors, And Impact On Surgeon Wellness

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Conference Proceeding

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Journal of Vascular Surgery


Objective: The contemporary medicolegal environment has been linked to procedure overuse, health care variation, and higher costs. For physicians accused of malpractice, there is also a personal toll. The objective of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of and risk factors for involvement in medical malpractice lawsuits among United States vascular surgeons, and to examine the association between these allegations with surgeon wellness. Methods: In 2018, the Society of Vascular Surgery (SVS) Wellness Task Force conducted a confidential survey of active members using a validated burnout assessment (Maslach Burnout Index) embedded into a questionnaire. This survey included questions related to medical errors and malpractice litigation. De-identified demographic, personal, and practice-related characteristics were assessed in respondents who reported malpractice allegations in the preceding 2 years, then compared with those without recent medicolegal litigation. Risk factors for malpractice allegations were identified (χ2, Kruskal-Wallis tests), and the association between malpractice allegations with wellness was examined. Multivariate logistic regression models were developed to identify independent risk factors for malpractice accusations. Results: Of 2905 active SVS members, 871 responses from practicing vascular surgeons were analyzed. A total of 161 (18.5%) were named in a malpractice lawsuit within 2 years. Malpractice allegations were significantly associated with surgeon burnout (odds ratio, 1.47; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-2.15; P = .041), but not with self-reported depression or suicidal ideation. The nature of malpractice claims included procedural errors (23.1%), failure to treat (18.8%), and error/delay in diagnosis (16.9%). Twenty percent of claims were settled prior to trial, and 19% were dismissed. Defendant vascular surgeons reported a “fair” resolution in 26.4% of closed cases. By unadjusted analysis, factors significantly associated with recent malpractice claims included mean age (51.7 ± 10.0 vs 49.3 ± 11.2 years; P = .0044) and mean years in practice (18.0 ± 10.7 vs 15.2 ± 11.8; P = .0007). Multivariate analysis revealed independent variables associated with malpractice allegations, including on-call frequency (P = .0178), recent medical errors (P = .0189), and male surgeons (P = .045). Conclusions: Malpractice allegations are common for vascular surgeons and are significantly associated with surgeon burnout. Nearly 20% of survey respondents reported being named in a lawsuit within the preceding 2 years. Our findings underscore the need for SVS initiatives to provide counseling and peer support for vascular surgeons facing litigation.

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