Lahaina Fire Update: Our team is available and offering free consultations via phone, email and video-conferencing. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by the devastating Maui fires.

Can Hawaii’s Physician Shortage Lead to an Increase in Medical Malpractice Cases?

The beautiful islands of Hawaii attract residents for their stunning beaches, scenic mountains, and a taste of jungle adventure. As retirees, remote-work opportunists, and people looking to escape crowded cities relocate to Hawaii, The Center Square reports that the state’s population growth between 2020 and 2040 is projected to exceed 11%. Still, as Hawaii’s population increases, one indispensable industry is falling behind, creating a disparity between the quality of medical treatment in Hawaii compared to mainland states.

The supply of physicians in Hawaii has been on a downward trend since 2016 according to the 2021 University of Hawai’i’s Physician Workforce Assessment Project. As of 2021, the state reported a shortage of 710 physicians across a variety of specialties including surgery, pathology, and infectious disease that were needed to meet the immediate need of patients. Shortages of doctors in both hospitals and primary care offices indicate a problem with the quality of care that patients may receive due to understaffing at the medical and administrative levels.

The bottom line is that hospitals are responsible for providing a standard level of care to all their patients. In any industry, understaffing leads to a lack of personalization of client care, exhausted employees, and mistakes. If a hospital fails to maintain appropriate staffing conditions that lead to a disruption of care and cause medical errors, the doctors, as well as the hospital as a whole, can be held negligent.

Common medical malpractice injuries that result from understaffed medical programs include:

Medication Errors

A study showed that nearly 6% of all adverse events in an understaffed hospital setting were due to medication errors. Rushing from patient to patient leads to mislabeling, and misreading medical charts, creating a hectic environment for medical staff and patients.

Patient Monitoring

Understaffing leads to missing or postponing tasks, ultimately compromising patient safety. Doctors and nurses are forced to prioritize care and treatment which can lead to a lack of observation of all patients. A missed sign of distress or an inappropriate level of care can be the difference be life and death for high-risk patients.

Lack of Communication

Understaffed hospitals simply have fewer people doing more work. Communication is essential to ensuring competent patient care but simple breakdowns in communication or information flow can cause serious complications in the distribution of medication, test results, and transfer of care.

Patient Falls & Hazards

Patients may be asked to call for assistance before using the restroom or getting out of bed, but when understaffing leads to unresponsive calls, a patient may try to move or walk on their own, leading to falls. Other hazards include choking while eating unmonitored, allergic reactions, and disconnected IVs and monitoring systems.


A lack of personalized care and treatment can lead medical professionals to miss the slightest detail that can create numerous complications in diagnosis. Understaffed hospitals may be quick to diagnose without completely considering all symptoms and conditions.

Prolonged Treatment Times

Understaffed medical facilities cause patients to delay their treatment for months at a time, leading to more complications as serious conditions are left untreated.

The physician shortage is not unique to Hawaii. Soft data, from a Medical Economics report, shows that physicians across the United States are electing to retire at a younger age and new physicians are opting for non-clinical careers.

The 2019 Hospital and Physician Professional Liability Benchmark Study showed that there has been a steep increase in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits nationwide since 2015, aligning with the decline of available physicians. Businesswire reports that data from the U.S. Medical Professional Liability Insurance Market suggests that the increased strain being put on the U.S. healthcare system and its providers due to COVID-19 has led to more medical errors and created higher than average lawsuit numbers due to understaffed hospitals, and overworked doctors.

Hawaii’s dilemma is exasperated due to the high cost of living on the islands which can be a deterrent for medical students. In an effort to offset some of the financial burdens on medical students, and to funnel adequate doctors into Hawaii’s hospitals, Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have committed $10 million to the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. Their gift will directly fund the new Kaua’i Medical Training Track, a multi-pronged program to address the physician shortage in Hawaii.

Hospitals must maintain an excellent standard of care for their patients regardless of understaffing in order to best serve the public. If you believe you or a family member has been the victim of medical malpractice in Hawaii, contact Bostwick & Peterson’s experienced team of medical malpractice attorneys who will listen to your needs and provide you with compassionate support and guidance by filling out our online form or calling 888-547-7677.