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Malpractice by Physical Therapists: Descriptive Analysis of Reports in the National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use Data File, 1991–2004

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As physical therapists increase autonomous practice, medical error becomes more important to public safety and public perceptions of the profession. The purpose of this study was to describe malpractice by physical therapists in the United States based on physical therapist malpractice reports in the National Practitioner Data Bank between January 1, 1991, and December 31, 2004. A frequency analysis of data related to physical therapist malpractice reports was performed. The relationship between size of malpractice payment and public policy related to access to physical therapist services and malpractice experience was explored. A total of 664 malpractice reports were found in the study period (mean, 47.73 events annually). California had 114 malpractice events, while Maine and Wyoming had none. The median payment amount for physical therapist malpractice was $10,000 to $15,000. "Treatment-related" events and events related to "improper technique" were the most common reasons for a malpractice report. Incidence of malpractice by physical therapists is low (estimated at 2.5 events/10,000 working therapists/year), and the average malpractice payment is small (<$15,000). Typical physical therapist malpractice involves a direct intervention by an early to mid-career therapist in an urban state. Cumulative physical therapist malpractice incidence in a state was unrelated to public policy related to direct patient access to physical therapy services.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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  • The Journal of Allied Health is the official publication of the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (ASAHP). The Journal is the only interdisciplinary allied health periodical, publishing scholarly works related to research and development, feature articles, research abstracts and book reviews. Readers of the Journal comprise allied health leaders, educators, faculty and students.
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