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Cost of Defensive Medicine Less Than Critics Claim

By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Sep 24, 2018

Patients should never expect to suffer injuries as a result of medical malpractice, but negligence can happen in a doctor’s office, in a hospital, and in other healthcare settings more often than people might think. In order to prevent medical negligence litigation, and to avoid claims like a failure to diagnose cancer, some healthcare providers have turned to a practice known as defensive medicine. While previous studies suggested defensive medicine came with extensive costs, a new study argues that the costs of defensive medicine have been exaggerated significantly. But does defensive medicine make a difference when it comes to a patient’s well-being? An article in Today’s General Counsel indicates that defensive medicine does have costs, but they are lower than many people previously believed. Another article about the study in The New York Times echoes that point, but also underscores that defensive medicine does not necessarily make patients any healthier.

What is Defensive Medicine?

In order to understand the significance of the costs associated with defensive medicine, it is important to learn more about what it is. In short, defensive medicine refers to the practice of ordering additional diagnostic tests in order to reduce the risk and potential cost of medical malpractice claims. Examples of defensive medicine practices might include PET scans, CT scans, additional blood tests or other diagnostic measures, and additional visits to the doctor’s office.

According to a report from Becker’s Hospital Review, a survey of physicians showed nearly 75 percent of them practice defensive medicine in some capacity, and nearly 80 percent admitted that they order additional tests or procedures in order to “avoid being named in a potential lawsuit.” More than 60 percent of those physicians said that “defensive medicine has become the new standard of care.”

Defensive Medicine Does Not Cost As Much As Some People Think

Many commentators have argued that defensive medicine is largely responsible for driving up the costs of healthcare in the United States. In 2010, Tom Price said that defensive medicine results in costs of approximately $650 billion each year, representing about 26 percent of total healthcare costs.

Based on the new study conducted by researchers from MIT and Duke University, the percentage of defensive medicine costs in the hospital setting is closer to about 5 percent. Yet, according to the article in The New York Times, “those patients who got the extra care were no better off.”

Key Takeaways from the Recent Study

In addition to the fact that defensive medicine is not driving up healthcare costs to the extent that Tom Price suggested nearly a decade ago, what are some of the other key takeaways from the recent study? While extra diagnostic tests do cost more money, they do not cost as much as some people think — at least in hospital settings. But, they also may not result in more accurate and timely diagnoses. At the same time, the study does not specifically address defensive medicine costs in other healthcare settings. For example, it is possible that “liability concerns cause treatment to rise by more than 5 percent for emergency room patients who go home the same day—or not at all in a typical office visit.”

In other words, additional research is necessary to draw conclusions about defensive medicine costs in healthcare settings beyond in-patient hospital stays. But we do know that healthcare providers need to do more than order additional tests and procedures to improve patient care and to prevent injuries.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Do you have questions about filing a medical negligence lawsuit? An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help. Contact the Law Offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth today.

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