Defensive medicine is not a new practice, but it is becoming increasingly common as the number of medical malpractice claims in the United States continues to grow. This type of medical practice is a form of medical care provided to patients solely to limit the physician or treating facility’s liability in a malpractice claim. It can include performing more tests or procedures than medically necessary (referred to as positive defensive medicine) or avoiding high-risk procedures and patients (known as negative defensive medicine).
Defensive medicine is used by physicians around the world, but more so in the United States. A recent study has investigated whether defensive medicine actually reduces malpractice claims. The researchers in the study assessed data on more than 18,352,391 admissions to acute care hospitals in the state of Florida between 2000 and 2009. They then linked those cases to medical malpractice history and investigated physicians within specific specialties, such as family practice, pediatrics, surgery, etc. The researchers found that malpractice claims were filed against 4,342 physicians or about 2.8 percent per physician per year. Depending on the specialty, some physicians did see a decrease in the number of malpractice claims filed against them in subsequent years because of the use of defensive medicine.
Researchers also paid attention to the rates of C-sections in the United States. In total, they found that 496 claims were filed against physicians, averaging about 4.8 percent per physician year. The average risk was adjusted due to a decrease in probability that a physician would have a malpractice claim by opting for a C-section.
In conclusion, the study did state that the assumption that if a doctor spends more and uses more resources, they are less likely to be sued was not easy to conclude. This is because certain “defensive” procedures may have been used as medically necessary procedures – such as conducting a C-section delivery.
Also, the study did not correlate the decrease of medical errors and adverse events to times when increased medical care was present. But, there were some promising results.
While defensive medicine may protect the physician, what does it do for the patient? Because physicians are nervous about potential lawsuits, they may charge patients hundreds to thousands of dollars in excess medical costs while they perform extra tests or unnecessary procedures to come to a diagnosis. This will cost the healthcare industry as well – and those costs may not necessarily yield a savings when compared to medical malpractice insurance payouts.
Also, a patient being forced to endure additional tests means the patient could face longer wait times for proper diagnosis or unnecessary testing discomfort. That being said, the more tests a physician performs, the less likely a patient is to encounter a misdiagnosis.
Determining the trade-off between defensive medicine and patient care is difficult – if not impossible – to assess.
Even if a physician uses defensive medicine, errors can still occur. If you are the victim of malpractice due to a physician or healthcare professional’s error, contact a medical malpractice attorney right away. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC for a no obligation consultation regarding your case. Get started by calling us or contact us online.