It is commonplace for defensive medicine to be practiced by health care professionals. Seventy-five percent of doctors have said that they have order more tests, procedures, and medicines than they thought was medically necessary in order to avoid lawsuits. Unfortunately, the cost of defensive medicine is significate and these costs are passed to everyone by increases in health insurance premiums, higher taxes to cover public health insurance programs, higher co-pays, and higher out of pocket costs.
Defensive medicine occurs when a medical professional orders tests, procedures, or visits, or even avoids patients or procedures that are high risk for the main purpose of reducing exposure to medical malpractice liability. There is positive defensive medicine and negative defensive medicine. When a physician do extra testing or performs more procedures then they are practicing positive defensive medicine. Negative defensive medicine is when a doctor avoids certain patients or avoids performing certain procedures.
In some cases, defensive medicine has become so routine that doctors are no longer aware that is was liability concerns that originally motivated their use. Additionally, a high number of defensive medical procedures are performed in order to minimize the risk of being wrong when medical consequences of being wrong can be severe.
Defensive medicine doesn’t only affect the costs of the delivery of care. It affects both patients and physicians. Physicians fear liability, pushing them to order tests and procedures if there is any uncertainty as to the diagnosis. Oftentimes these tests or procedures have very few benefits and very high costs. On the other hand, the patient ends up undergoing these tests and procedures when they may not be necessary. Some of these unnecessary procedures may be invasive and potentially a violation of the standard of care.
The use of defensive medicine is unlikely to go away. Even putting a cap on the damages that a plaintiff can obtain in a medical malpractice lawsuit is unlikely to an effect on the physician’s perception of their malpractice risk. Since the caps won’t stop physicians from fearing litigation, then it is unlikely to stop defensive medicine.
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