AMA: Medical Malpractice Woes Hurting Patient Care

April 4, 2003 ( - Doctors in high-risk specialties have dropped certain services, referred complex cases to other physicians, or closed their practices entirely because of skyrocketing medical malpractice costs, the American Medical Association said.

That was a key result of an AMA survey released Thursday in an effort to keep the group’s battle for medical malpractice reform on the legislative agenda in a war-focused Congress, according to Washington-based legal publisher BNA.

According to the AMA survey:

  • 92.4% of high-risk specialists said liability pressures were important in their decision to stop providing certain services
  • 41.5% of high-risk specialists began referring complex cases
  • 24.2% of high-risk specialists stopped offering certain services, including emergency and trauma care and delivering babies, AMA said

The survey classified emergency medicine, general surgery, neurosurgery, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and thoracic surgery as high-risk specialties.


The group has identified 18 states as having health-care access crises tied to rising malpractice insurance premiums: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.

Senate Focused

The physician group is focusing its effort on the US Senate where the AMA said the issue has gotten elbowed aside by the Iraq war and other matters. The AMA-endorsed medical liability reform legislation (HR 5) cleared the US House of Representatives in March. HR 5 would cap noneconomic damages in health lawsuits at $250,000 and take other steps to rein in litigation.

In a news release, AMA President Yank Coble Jr. cited a “broken medical liability system” and urged the Senate to act on legislation placing federal caps on damages in health-care lawsuits. “We strongly urge the Senate to pass common-sense medical liability reform legislation that will preserve patients’ access to care,” Coble said.

The AMA said 30 state and national medical specialty societies took part in the survey, which included responses from more than 4,800 doctors.