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Date: July 13, 1995
Contact: Bonnie Aikman, PHS/HRSA (301) 443-3376

HRSA Reports 1994 Medical Malpractice Payment Data

The number of medical malpractice payments in the United States has remained relatively constant in recent years according to the 1994 Annual Report of the National Practitioner Data Bank. Release of the report was announced today by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the Public Health Service.

During 1994, 20,266 malpractice payments were reported to the data bank. This is 1.7 percent higher than 1993 but 1.3 percent lower than 1992.

Malpractice payments reported in 1994 totaled $3,257,213,944, an 8.4 percent increase over the previous year.

The five-year-old National Practitioner Data Bank is the nation's only central repository of information on medical malpractice payments and medical disciplinary actions taken against practitioners. Established by Congress, the data bank serves to alert licensing and credentialing authorities to health care practitioners' malpractice or professional disciplinary records.

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala said, "We now have clear evidence that malpractice payments are not spiraling out of control. Not only has the number of payments remained relatively constant -- but half of all payments are less than $60,000."

HRSA Administrator Ciro V. Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., called the data bank a major benefit to the nation's medical consumers. "By continually updating information about the malpractice experience of health practitioners," he said, "it represents an ongoing quality assurance program."

Malpractice insurers are required to report to the data bank all malpractice payments made on behalf of physicians, dentists and other health care practitioners. Certain disciplinary actions must be reported by state licensing boards, hospitals and other health care providers, and professional societies.

The median malpractice payment reported in 1994 was $60,000. Half of all payments were below this amount and half were above. The average malpractice payment, a number statistically affected by a small number of large payments, was $160,858, an increase of 9.9 percent over 1993.

While the overall number of malpractice payments grew only slightly in 1994, the number reported for physicians increased by 4.6 percent to 15,550, or about one payment for every 35 physicians. In contrast, the number of malpractice payments reported for dentists decreased by 2.9 percent to 3,003, or about one payment for every 52 dentists.

There were 1,713 malpractice payments reported for the 54 other types of health care practitioners subject to data bank reporting -- a decrease of 15.3 percent from 1993.

In 1994, the data bank also received reports of 4,996 adverse licensing, privileging and professional society membership actions involving health care practitioners.

Hospitals are required by law to request information from the data bank on all new applicants for staff privileges, and once every two years on all practitioners with current staff privileges. State licensing boards, health maintenance organizations, other types of health care providers, and professional societies may query the data bank voluntarily. By law, information in the data bank concerning specific practitioners is not available to the public.

In 1994, the data bank responded to 1,504,824 queries. This was a 31.4 percent increase from 1993 and a 63.1 percent increase from 1992. Almost half the 1994 queries came from HMOs and other health care entities with no legal requirement to consult the data bank.

The number of matches -- instances in which the data bank contains a record concerning an individual about whom a query is made -- has grown significantly. More than 49 percent of matches made since the opening of the data bank occurred during 1994.

In 1994, there were 118,840 matches, up from 10,983 matches three years earlier in 1991. During 1994, 7.9 percent of all queries matched either a reportable action or a medical malpractice report.

"The match is the great value of the data bank," Sumaya said. "The increase in matches is related to the continuing increase in both queries and reports. As queries and reports accumulate, the data bank will become even more valuable as an information source and in its ability to protect the American public."

The five millionth query to the data bank was processed in March 1995.

HRSA is one of eight agencies of the Public Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


NOTE TO EDITORS: A copy of the 1994 Annual Report of the National Practitioner Data Bank may be obtained from the HRSA Office of Communications, Tel: 301-443-2086; FAX: 301-443-1989.