Male doctors are more than twice as likely to have legal action taken against them than their female counterparts, a recent study found.

The study, published last week in the journal BMC Medicine, affirms a well-established trend for the first time on a global level. It also shows that the disparity has not changed over the course of 15 years, despite a growing presence of women in the field.

That goes against the common argument that men in the medical field are sued more often or face regulatory discipline simply because men dominate the industry. The researchers suggest there must be other factors at play that haven't changed over the past decade, such as the hours worked or a greater amount of interaction with patients.

"The causes are likely to be complex and multi-factorial," Emily Unwin, a lead author of the study and a researcher at University College London, said in a statement.

study from the American Medical Society found similar results in 2010, but its authors argued that the disparity is the result of male physicians being concentrated in positions with the highest number of claims — such as general surgeons or surgical subspecialists. Female doctors were more heavily concentrated in positions such as pediatricians or psychiatrists, according to the AMA.

Male doctors are also more likely to own their own practice, and owners are more likely to be sued than individual employees, the AMA reported.

Unwin and her colleagues argue that understanding the factors behind the trend will help identify ways to support doctors and improve patient care. Between 2008 and 2012, there has been a 17 percent increase in the number of medical licenses that have been revoked, denied or suspended in the United States, according to the study.

The enormous expanse in legal action taken against U.S. doctors in the past 20 years has brought some people to argue that the rise of lawsuits has contributed to high hospital bills. One study published in Health Affairs found that the medical liability system in the United States costs around $55 billion in health care spending every year.

The solution, critics argue, would be to pass some form of malpractice tort reform, such as capping damages awarded to plaintiffs.

However, the actual impact that "defensive medicine" has on prices in the health industry has been the subject of heated debate. The $55 billion figure only constitutes around 2.4 percent of total health care spending, according to the Health Affairs study. Others argue that reform instituted at the state level has not reduced costs.

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