Malpractice Lawsuits Promote ‘Defensive Medicine’ Says New Research

Staff Writer | August 23rd, 2013

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits in New York Healthcare professionals may be putting their patients through costly and unnecessary tests because of their fear of being sued, according to a new study. Even if the actual threat of a medical malpractice lawsuit is low, ‘defensive medicine‘ is a phenomenon that may be driving up the cost of healthcare for patients, say researchers.

The analysis was performed by Harvard School of Public Health, and concludes that the medical profession needs to develop a better understanding of what drives defensive medicine in order to control it. Law professor Michelle Mello, who led the research, previously found that defensive practices accounted for 2.5% of healthcare spending in the United States during 2008. She told Reuters Health that some diagnostic services are not ‘medically necessary.’

The study combined information taken directly from doctor surveys, in which 3,400 physicians were asked about their fear of malpractice lawsuits, and data from 1.9 million Medicare claims. In particular, analysts looked at 29,000 Medicare patients who had visited their doctor for ostensibly minor complaints like chest and back pain and headaches – problems that could indicate a serious condition. The patients were chosen based on the fact that none of them were later diagnosed with a serious illness related to their initial complaint.

The team allocated each doctor who took part in the survey different levels of concern about facing malpractice charges: low, medium or high. The doctors were then linked to tests they had ordered for patients. Researchers found that patients with a headache who saw a doctor with a high level of concern were more likely to receive CT scans and other imaging tests than patients who saw doctors with a low level of concern. More than 11% of the patients who saw the most litigation-averse physicians got additional testing, compared to 6% of patients with less-concerned doctors.

Nearly 30% of the lower back pain complaints submitted to doctors with a high-level concern  resulted in further testing, compared to 18% in the low-level concern group. Interestingly, the less-concerned doctors were more likely to run additional tests for patients worried about chest pain. Researchers believe this is because stress tests involve physical exertion – like running on a treadmill – and medication, both of which could deter doctors fearful of a medical malpractice lawsuit in New York and other states.

Fear of lawsuits not dependant on state laws

The study also showed that the level of concern about medical malpractice lawsuits did not change according to local liability reforms, such as caps on how much a patient can seek in damages.

“Even with caps or other reform measures, it’ doesn’t make physicians feel safer,” Mello said. “We are finding that the focus should be on how physicians are feeling – that has real implications for future policies.”

The associate director of health at the Center for American Progress, Maura Calsyn, said the new study highlights the need for federal medical liability reforms that could allow doctors to deliver the highest standard of care possible without fear of facing a medical malpractice claim.

The research team behind the new study propose an administrative compensation system similar to workers compensation, which would do away with the patient’s pursuit of proven negligence, instead requiring only that they show the injury could have been avoided.

Medical malpractice lawsuits in New York

In New York, doctors are protected somewhat from frivolous lawsuits by the lack of a ‘date of discovery’ rule, meaning that people who are considering filing medical malpractice lawsuits in New York must take legal steps within 30 months of the actual injury being caused.

If you would like more information about your options for filing a malpractice claim, speak to an attorney from The Sanders Firm. Our team of NY personal injury lawyers boast 45 years experience successfully litigating cases involving hospital negligence and doctor malpractice. Contact 1-800 FAIR PLAY for a free case evaluation.

MedCity News, Please don’t sue me: Doctors afraid of malpractice suits more likely to order extra tests http://medcitynews.com/2013/08/please-dont-sue-me-doctors-afraid-of-malpractice-suits-more-likely-to-order-extra-tests/