(HealthDay News) — The number of medical malpractice payments in the United States has dropped sharply since 2002, according to a new study. And compensation payment amounts and liability insurance costs for many doctors declined in recent years. These findings were published online Oct. 30 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed 2002–2013 data from California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Tennessee. Overall, the rate of paid malpractice claims decreased from 18.6 to 9.9% per 1,000 physicians. The estimated average annual decrease was 6.3% for MDs and 5.3% for DOs. Meanwhile, the median indemnity, or compensation, amount of paid claims in 2013-adjusted dollars increased 5% annually from 1994–2007, but since 2007, median indemnity fell by an average of 1.1% a year – declining to $195,000 in 2013.

There were mixed trends in liability premiums paid by doctors. In California, Illinois, and Tennessee, premiums charged by each state’s largest medical malpractice insurer to internists and obstetrician-gynecologists fell 36% from 2004–2013. Premiums charged to general surgeons decreased 30%. Colorado saw a 20% drop in premiums for internists, but an 11% increase for ob-gyns and a 13% rise for general surgeons. In New York, rates charged by the largest insurer rose 12% for ob-gyns, 16% for internists, and 35% for general surgeons.

The authors write that nontraditional malpractice reforms, including communication-and-resolution programs and pre-suit notification and apology laws, look promising. Reform approaches “that accelerate the recognition of errors and the resolution of disputes are likely to further both monetary and nonmonetary goals of malpractice reform,” William Sage, MD, JD, of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, writes in an accompanying journal editorial.

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