The author of a new study of 1,231 physicians concluded that 91 percent of physicians answered "yes" when posed the question: Do physicians order more tests and procedures then patients need to protect themselves from malpractice suits? According to the author of the study, doctors overwhelmingly believe they overtest and overtreat to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits.
Assuming this is true, the question must be asked, Is that a bad thing? In countries using socialized medicine where the government pays for medical care, defensive medicine is much less common than in the United States. If a routine colonoscopy screening examination for cancer will detect cancer only once in every one-hundred tests, the test is simply not cost-effective. For the 99 percent of the time that the test produces no positive result (when there is no colon cancer), the test is viewed as a waste of money by the insurance industry and by governments in countries with socialized medicine.
However, in the 1% of cases where a routine colonoscopy screening examination reveals the presence of colon cancer, the test is life-saving and life-altering for the patient. Was the screening examination a waste of money for the patient whose life was saved by the test? Of course not! Defensive medicine plays an important role in diagnosing medical conditions, such as colon cancer, in cases where the patient has no signs or symptoms and feels perfectly healthy.
Are unnecessary tests and procedures bad for everyone? Yes--but defensive medicine can be life-saving.