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Perspective: Malpractice in an Academic Medical Center: A Frequently Overlooked Aspect of Professionalism Education

Hochberg, Mark S. MD; Seib, Carolyn D. MD; Berman, Russell S. MD; Kalet, Adina L. MD; Zabar, Sondra R. MD; Pachter, H. Leon MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182086d72
Professionalism Education

Understanding how medical malpractice occurs and is resolved is important to improving patient safety and preserving the viability of a physician's career in academic medicine. Every physician is likely to be sued by a patient, and how the physician responds can change his or her professional life. However, the principles of medical malpractice are rarely taught or addressed during residency training. In fact, many faculty at academic medical centers know little about malpractice.

In this article, the authors propose that information about the inciting causes of malpractice claims and their resolution should be incorporated into residency professionalism curricula both to improve patient safety and to decrease physician anxiety about a crucial aspect of medicine that is not well understood. The authors provide information on national trends in malpractice litigation and residents' understanding of malpractice, then share the results of their in-depth review of surgical malpractice claims filed during 2001–2008 against their academic medical center. The authors incorporated those data into an evidence-driven curriculum for residents, which they propose as a model for helping residents better understand the events that lead to malpractice litigation, as well as its process and prevention.

Dr. Hochberg is professor and vice chairman of surgery, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.

Dr. Seib is a resident in surgery, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Dr. Berman is associate professor of surgery and surgical residency program director, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.

Dr. Kalet is associate professor of medicine and surgery, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.

Dr. Zabar is associate professor of medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.

Dr. Pachter is professor and chairman of surgery, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.

Editor's Note: A commentary on this article appears on page 282.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Hochberg, Department of Surgery, NYU Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, NBV 15 N1, New York, NY 10016; telephone: (212) 263-5777; fax: (201) 209-0052; e-mail: mark.hochberg@nyumc.org.

First published online January 18, 2011

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges