Defensive medicine keeps doctors out of legal trouble, according to a recently published study conducted by researchers with the Harvard Medical School.
Defensive medicine refers to doctors ordering a wide array of often unnecessary tests, possibly at the patients’ request. The practice was linked to a lower rate of malpractice lawsuits across 19 Florida hospitals included in the study.
Health economist Doctor Anupam Jena and lead researcher on the study engaged a team of researchers to look at data from 19 Florida hospitals. Collected between 2000 and 2009, the hospital admissions were correlated with over 24,000 malpractice claims spanning seven specialities.
Overall, the research team found that annually each doctor under question was faced with a 2.8 percent rate of malpractice claims. Pediatric doctors were less likely to attract negative reactions from the patients they treated. They cumulated under 2 percent of the malpractice claims yearly.
The gynecology and obstetrics malpractice claims returned a 4 percent per doctor.
According to the researchers:
“The study shows that we need to better understand defensive medicine and how this type of practice impacts both patients and physicians”.
However, when patients spend more on tests ordered by their respective physicians, the risk of malpractice claims lowered significantly across all seven specialities. Defensive medicine is not a practice recommended by medical associations. While defensive medicine keeps doctors out of legal trouble, it may put patients in financial strain. Across the spectrum, it is highly inefficient, wasting resources and money.
This is just a first study on the matter. Due to the findings, the research team recommends that the link between defensive medicine and malpractice claims should be studied further. At the same time, considering how cost inefficient it is to order medical tests that may be fully unnecessary, a different approach should be studied.
Patients ask for certain medical tests explicitly. It is the physician’s role to explain that while adding strain to resources, it may also not improve treatment or diagnosis.
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