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Defensive Medicine versus Good Medical Practice

Posted on July 9, 2010

No matter what their specialty, doctors responding to a published survey say that liability worries lead them to order unnecessary tests and procedures to protect themselves against malpractice lawsuits, a Wall Street Journal article reported.

Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, among the 1,231 doctors who responded, 91% reported “believing that physicians order more tests and procedures than needed to protect themselves from malpractice suits.”

It didn’t matter whether they were generalists (91%), medical specialists (89%), surgeons (93%), or other specialists (94%). In fact, the only difference in response was seen between men (93%) who agreed with the statement, and women (87%) who agreed.

The majority of respondents believe that in order for doctors to reduce unnecessary tests, there would need to be some type of protection against “unwarranted” medical malpractice lawsuits. The defendant, or medical doctor or hospital, generally consider any type of malpractice lawsuit “unwarranted,” even if it involves medical error.

This is exactly what they have in Michigan, where pharmaceutical companies cannot be sued for defective drugs. Nationwide, medical device makers enjoy a shield from liability from injuries by defective devices thanks to the Riegel decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

With an estimated 100,000 medical errors occurring every year from failing to diagnose, medication errors, doctor or nurse mistakes, the medical profession might be more concerned with reducing injury to patients than shielding itself from liability, which costs about $30 billion annually.

The nationwide effort to reduce the cost of medicine may be stymied by physicians’ fears of malpractice lawsuits unless they receive some type of shield from liability. Until that happens they will continue to order expensive tests that may not be necessary, which is a concern for Florida medical malpractice attorneys. Some might even consider that insurance fraud.