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AANS: Malpractice Suits Affect Practicing Neurosurgeons

Doctors aren't leaving the worst environments, but they may be restricting their practices

TUESDAY, April 29 (HealthDay News) -- Between 2005 and 2007, the number of practicing neurosurgeons increased in states with the worst malpractice environments. But the probable reason -- restrictions in practice to limit liability -- may adversely affect patient care, according to research presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons in Chicago.

Zachary N. Litvack, M.D., of the Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, and colleagues analyzed data from the American Board of Neurological Surgeons on 4,584 active and retired neurosurgeons to assess practice changes in states that the Council of State Neurosurgical Societies and the American Medical Association classified as having "crisis," "severe" and "non-crisis" malpractice environments.

Contrary to expectations, the researchers found that the number of practicing neurosurgeons increased by 5 percent in "crisis" states. Out of 10 states with the greatest increase in the number of neurosurgeons, they found that eight were classified as "severe" by the Council of State Neurosurgical Societies and that five were classified as "crisis" by the American Medical Association. "Non-crisis" states actually saw a 2 percent decrease in the number of practicing neurosurgeons. These findings suggest that neurosurgeons in "crisis" and "severe" states may be restricting their practices to limit malpractice liability, which means that more neurosurgeons are required to serve patient needs, according to the researchers.

"While malpractice claims do not on the surface appear to affect demographics alone, they inevitably erode the system of providing neurosurgical care to patients," Litvack said in a statement. "As more neurosurgeons limit their scope of practice, patients will find it more difficult to obtain the expert care they need, and that is an issue that indeed needs to be addressed."

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