Every physician will face at least one malpractice claim over the course of his career, MedPage Today reported. The likelihood increases dramatically for neurosurgeons.  Three of four malpractice are resolved with no payment to the plaintiff, researchers said.

Ninty-nine percent of specialists with high risk of malpractice, especially surgical specialties, will face a malpractice claim by the time they are 65, Amitabh Chandra, PhD, of Harvard University, wrote in the Aug. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Seventy-five percent of lower-risk physicians will have a malpractice claim by the time they reach retirement age, researchers found.  Seventy-eight percent of these claims did not yield payments to plaintiffs.

Researchers evaluated findings from a large professional liability insurer database and calculated that each year 7.4 percent of physicians across all specialties had a malpractice claim and that 1.6 percent had a claim that resulted in a payment to the patient. 

"Although these annual rates of paid claims are low, the annual and career risks of any malpractice claim are high, suggesting that the risk of being sued alone may create a tangible fear among physicians," Chandra and colleagues wrote.

"Physicians can insure against indemnity payments through malpractice insurance, but they cannot insure against the indirect costs of litigation, such as time, stress, added work, and reputational damage," he added.

40,916 physicians who were covered by a single liability insurer for at least one year between 1991 and 2005 were evaluated. 

The highest rates annually were in neurosurgery, which saw a rate of 19.1 percent.  The second-highest was for thoracic-cardiovascular surgeons, who came in at 18.9 percent.