A new study suggests “defensive medicine” – spending more resources and money on tests and procedures for patients – might be the best course of action for physicians in the current healthcare system, making them less likely to be sued for malpractice.
- Team of researchers says defensive medicine means lower malpractice rates for physicians
- Defensive medicine means spending more resources on patients’ tests and procedures
- Researchers believe malpractice risk is an obstacle in the way of healthcare reform
Published in The BMJ, the study conducted by a mixed team of researchers at Harvard University, USC, and Stanford University noted more and more surveys show that doctors choose to practice defensive medicine – investing more in patients – as a preventive measure to reduce liability risk.
It is thus a widely-held assumption that higher spending is a direct link to lower malpractice claim rates. A lot of physicians, for example, prefer to perform C-sections rather than assist to a natural birth due to malpractice concerns. And the link is obvious here, too: the more C-sections an obstetrician performed, the less likely they were be sued for malpractice.
In light of these results, the medical community is concerned that malpractice risk is an obstacle in the way of healthcare reform. One of the authors, Seth Seabury from the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, said it’s difficult to rely on physicians to eliminate wasteful spending if they worry that lower spending will cause greater malpractice risk.
In spite of legislators’ efforts, physicians perceive more spending as a shield from liability risk, so the financial incentive for them and for the hospitals is still there. A doctor’s spending is a significant factor in the outcome of a malpractice lawsuit.
Study’s lead author Dr. Anupam Jena, a Harvard Medical School associate professor in the Department of Health Care Policy, explained that judges, juries, and patients have a greater understanding for doctors if there’s higher spending to show they did everything in their power to help.
For the study, researchers analyzed two massive databases from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. They included 24,637 physicians involved in approximately 19 million hospital discharges and 4,342 malpractice claims between 2000 and 2009.
Researchers found an unhealthy correlation – the higher the hospital spending per year, the lower the malpractice rate – an impediment in the way to reform. New regulations must be issued that take the pressure off physicians who practice safe and effective medicine, so they don’t feel they need to spend more for defensive purposes.
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