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Brain surgeons avoid brain surgery "due to insurance costs"

8 October, 2002

Brain surgeons in the US are unwilling to perform complex neurosurgery because of the cost of professional liability insurance, according to a survey.

According to the data, 25 states are in "severe" crisis and an additional 12 states are facing a "potential" medical liability crisis.

The survey was conducted by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the Council of State Neurosurgical Societies (CSNS).

According to the survey data, neurosurgeons in nearly all 50 states have had increases in their professional liability insurance (PLI) costs. Approximately 50 per cent of respondents have had up to a 50 per cent increase, 13 per cent have had between a 50-100 per cent increase and 19 per cent have had over a 100 per cent increase in their PLI costs from 2000 to 2002, with some neurosurgeons paying $300,000 per year. The most important findings of the survey showed that as a result of neurosurgeons’ premium increases: 43 per cent plan to, or are considering, restricting their practice; 29 per cent plan to, or are considering, retiring from practice; and 19 per cent plan to, or are considering, moving their practice.

Stephen Papadopoulos, a practising neurosurgeon from Phoenix, Arizona, and President of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons said:

"The impact that this crisis is having on patients cannot be understated. Many neurosurgeons are no longer performing high-risk neurosurgical procedures in an attempt to lower their professional liability insurance costs and minimise their risk of suit. Based on this survey data, it seems that brain surgeons are no longer performing brain surgery".

Because of increased liability risk, fewer neurosurgeons are covering hospital emergency rooms, and trauma hospitals are shutting their doors to neurotrauma, and diverting patients with serious head and spinal cord injuries to other locations.

Dr Roberto Heros, President of the AANS and Co-Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Miami in Florida said:

"What this means for the public is that our patients may be denied crucial neurosurgical emergency medical treatment or they will have to travel greater distances, even to other states, to get the care they need. Critical lifesaving time is lost while searching for an available emergency room."

The AANS and CNS believe that federal legislation is necessary to address the issue.