As a specialty that treats acute pathology and refractory pain, neurosurgery is at risk for high liability, making the practice of defensive medicine quite common. The extent to which the practice of defensive medicine is linked to experience with malpractice lawsuits remains unclear. The aims of this study were to clarify this by surveying neurosurgeons about the frequency of experiencing medical lawsuits and to show how neurosurgeons reflect on facing such lawsuits.
A survey consisting of 24 questions was distributed among members of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The survey consisted of four parts: 1) demographics of participants; 2) the way malpractice lawsuits affect the way respondents practice medicine; 3) experiences with medical malpractice lawsuits; and 4) the effect of the medical malpractice environment on one’s own practice of medicine.
There were a total of 490 survey respondents, 83.5% of whom were employed in the US. Of the respondents, 39.5% stated they were frequently or always concerned about being sued, and 77.4% stated their fear had led to a change in how they practice medicine. For 58.4%, this change led to the practice of defensive medicine, while for others it led to more extensive documentation (14.3%) and/or to referring or dropping complex cases (12.4%).
Among the respondents, 80.9% at some time were named in a medical malpractice lawsuit and 12.3% more than 10 times. The main concerns expressed about being sued included losing confidence and practicing defensive medicine (17.8%), personal assets being at risk (16.9%), and being named in the National Practitioner Data Bank (15.6%). Given the medical malpractice environment, 58.7% of respondents considered referring complex patient cases, whereas 36.5% considered leaving the practice of medicine. The fear of being sued (OR 4.06, 95% CI 2.53–6.51) and the consideration of limiting the scope of practice (OR 3.08, 1.80–5.20) were both independently associated with higher odds of considering leaving the practice of medicine.
The current medicolegal landscape has a profound impact on neurosurgical practice. The fear of being sued, the financial aspects of practicing defensive medicine, and the proportion of neurosurgeons who are considering leaving the practice of medicine emphasize the need for a shift in the medicolegal landscape to a system in which fear of being sued does not play a dominant role and the interests of patients are protected.