Next time you apply for malpractice insurance, don’t be surprised if the company requires a personality profile.


“Research shows a correlation be-tween multiple claims and communications skills,” says James E. Krist, president and CEO of United Medical Liability Insurance Co. (UML) in Iowa. “We figured that if a test could be a risk-management tool, then why not use it?”

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His Des Moines-based company has constructed a questionnaire to assess traits that can affect the likelihood of a lawsuit: communication skills, attention to detail, and a propensity for risk-taking behavior. If a doctor scores well, the application is sent to UML’s underwriters for a traditional review.


“If a doctor doesn’t do well, we will still insure, but we offer certified coaching programs at our expense to, hopefully, make the individual more aware of traits that can give rise to claims,” Krist explains.


Scores have no effect on premiums, and only a doctor who doesn’t take the test at all risks being denied a policy, he adds.


UML, which operates primarily in Iowa, has been administering the tests for about 21/2 years. American Physicians Assurance Corp. has used them in Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio since 2003, as “just one of many factors the underwriters look at,” says company spokesman Cathy Burke.

“We started in the states where we experienced the most losses,” she notes. Based in Michigan, American Physicians operates in seven states, including Indiana, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. It has no plans to expand the program just yet.


Although both Krist and Burke believe the tests have reduced their companies’ exposures, neither could be specific about their impact. “It’s too early to tell, but it’s looking really good,” Krist says. “Actuaries need five years of experience for an analysis, and we’re more than halfway there.” If losses continue to decline beyond that five-year mark, then premiums will too, he adds.


It’s also too soon to gauge physician reaction, says James Hub-bard, MD, president of the Iowa Medical Society. “My feeling is it just adds one more layer to the bureaucracies we’re constantly fighting and dealing with. It’s one more hurdle, one extra burden.”


Meanwhile, UML is gathering data to improve its program, perhaps to address various specialties.