THURSDAY, Oct. 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The number of medical malpractice payments in the United States has dropped sharply since 2002, according to a new study.
And compensation payment amounts and liability insurance costs for most doctors remained flat or declined in recent years, researchers report online Oct. 30 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"For many physicians, the prospect of being sued for medical malpractice is a disturbing aspect of modern clinical practice," researchers, led by Michelle Mello, of Stanford Law School, wrote in a journal news release. Various reforms have attempted to stabilize malpractice insurance prices and, in the process, escalating health costs.
For this study, researchers analyzed 2002-2013 data from California, Colorado, Illinois, New York and Tennessee. Overall, the rate decreased from 18.6 to 9.9 paid claims per 1,000 physicians during that time period, the study found.
The estimated average annual decrease was more than 6 percent for MDs (medical doctors) and more than 5 percent for DOs (osteopathic doctors), the study found.
Meanwhile, the median indemnity, or compensation, amount of paid claims in 2013-adjusted dollars increased 5 percent annually from 1994 to 2007, the researchers said.
But since 2007, median indemnity fell by an average of 1.1 percent a year -- declining to $195,000 in 2013, they found.
There were mixed trends in liability premiums paid by doctors. In California, Illinois and Tennessee, premiums charged by each state's largest medical malpractice insurer to internists and obstetrician-gynecologists fell 36 percent from 2004 to 2013. Premiums charged to general surgeons decreased 30 percent.
Colorado saw a 20 percent drop in premiums for internists, but an 11 percent increase for ob-gyns and a 13 percent rise for general surgeons.
In New York, rates charged by the largest insurer rose 12 percent for ob-gyns, 16 percent for internists, and 35 percent for general surgeons.
The authors write that nontraditional malpractice reforms, including communication-and-resolution programs and pre-suit notification and apology laws, look promising.
Reform approaches "that accelerate the recognition of errors and the resolution of disputes are likely to further both monetary and nonmonetary goals of malpractice reform," Dr. William Sage, of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, wrote in an accompanying journal editorial.
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a guide to health care quality.