Improving patient safety and quality are priorities in health care. The study of malpractice cases provides an opportunity to identify areas for quality improvement. While the issues surrounding malpractice cases in breast cancer are often multifactorial, there are few studies providing insight into malpractice cases specifically related to common breast cancer surgical procedures. We sought to characterize the factors in liability cases involving breast cancer surgery.
Closed cases from 2008 to 2019 involving a breast cancer diagnosis, a primary responsible service of general surgery, surgical oncology, or plastic surgery, and a breast cancer procedure were reviewed using data from the Controlled Risk Insurance Company (CRICO) Strategies Comparative Benchmarking System database, a national repository of professional liability data.
A total of 174 malpractice cases were reviewed, of which 41 cases were closed with payment. Plastic surgeons were most commonly named (64%, 111/174), followed by general surgeons (30%, 53/174), and surgical oncologists (6%, 10/174). The most common allegation was error in surgical treatment (87%, 152/174), and infection, cosmetic injury, emotional trauma, foreign body, and nosocomial infections represented the top five injury descriptions. On average, indemnity payments were larger for high clinical severity cases. Technical skills, followed by clinical judgment, were the most commonly named contributing factors. The average payment per case was $130,422.
Malpractice cases predominantly involve technical complications related to plastic surgery procedures. Better understanding of the malpractice environment involving surgical procedures performed for breast cancer may provide practical insight to guide initiatives aimed at improving patient outcomes.