Internists provide primary medical care to adult patients on a wide range of acute and chronic medical conditions. They may be primary care providers or based in a hospital, i.e. hospitalists. Internists must be able to diagnose and treat nearly every major medical condition. For this reason, medical malpractice litigation involving internal medicine physicians may involve a wide range of clinical issues. The Doctors Company, a physician owned medical malpractice insurer, analyzed 1180 closed claims brought against internists from 2007-2014 and released a study with the results in September 2016. The study found that internal medicine physicians are more likely to be sued for high severity patient injuries than doctors in other specialties.
Diagnosis-related claims accounted for nearly 4 in 10 internal medicine claims (39%). In such cases, patients who sustained injuries alleged that their doctors either failed to diagnose their conditions correctly or failed to diagnose them in a timely manner. Diagnoses most often associated with these alleged lapses were myocardial infarction (6%), lung cancer (5%), colorectal cancer (5%), and prostate cancer (3%).
The two other most common patient allegations involved medical treatment (32%)—including a failure to order or delay in ordering diagnostic tests—and medication-related errors (19%). Together, the three top categories of complaints accounted for 90% of all patient allegations.
Because internists are not limited to one type of medical problem or organ system, they treat a wide range of clinical issues. Internists are sometimes referred to as the “doctor’s doctor” because they are called upon by other physicians to help solve diagnostic problems.
When a medical negligence claim is filed against an internist, the internal medicine expert witness has the unique experience to consult and testify on the issues of the case. The board certified internal medicine expert provides a detailed and independent review of the medical case and presents an analysis loyal to the medical facts.