A physician's likelihood of being sued for malpractice is linked to the medical school he or she attended, according to a study published today in the British journal Quality and Safety in Health Care.
The study finds that physicians who attended medical schools at public universities that were founded more recently and had fewer residents in training were more likely to be sued for malpractice than physicians from other schools.
"By profiling medical schools by the claims experiences of their graduates, we were able to detect a relationship," write the authors, led by Teresa Waters, a Ph.D. researcher at the Center for Health Services Research at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
Waters says this is the first study that she knows of finding a link between medical schools and malpractice lawsuits. She says it needs to be followed up with study of medical school curricula to pinpoint what elements are linked to malpractice litigation.
The study does not name medical schools because "we need to try to understand what is generally the cause of these differences before we point any fingers," Waters says in an interview.
In addition to a medical school's quality of clinical education or selection of less qualified candidates, Waters says higher malpractice litigation could be linked to a lack of courses on communications skills, which is an important factor in malpractice lawsuits.
In the study, Waters and colleagues examined data on malpractice claims from 1990 to 1997 for physicians in Florida, Maryland and Indiana and identified the schools they graduated from.
To ensure an adequate sample, the study was limited to schools with at least 5% of their graduates living in one of the three states, which narrowed the number of medical schools studied to 75 out of 122 in the United States. The study also attempted to risk-adjust rates for specialties that have a high incidence of lawsuits, Waters says.
Researchers found that, of the physicians examined, 11% had been sued at least once for malpractice; 3.7% graduated from schools with a lower-than-average number of lawsuits; and 10.3% graduated from medical schools with a higher-than-average number of lawsuits.
Waters adds that the study was published in Britain after it was rejected by "a well-known American journal."