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Defensive Medicine: What Is It, and How Could It Affect You

Defensive Medicine: What Is It, and How Could It Affect You

Defensive medicine can be put into two categories: providing too much and providing too little medical care. Providing too much medical care (also known as “positive” defensive medicine) is the tendency of doctors to order arguably unnecessary services, such as expensive laboratory testing, radiology scans, diagnostic procedures, and to make referrals to other medical specialists. Providing too little medical care (also known as “negative” defensive medicine) may include a doctor avoiding high risk patients or procedures out of the fear of being held personally responsible if their treatment is not successful.

Focusing here on the “positive” side of defensive medicine, the ordering of more tests and procedures than may be necessary is often characterized as a response to the fear that some doctors have about being sued by their patients for their failures to identify serious medical conditions. In other words, some maintain that doctors are ordering additional tests and procedures to cover all contingencies and to minimize their risks of being held liable for something that may be diagnosed in the future. In a 2010 a survey of physicians in the United States, 91% of those surveyed agreed in varying degrees with the statement that “physicians order more tests and procedures than needed to protect themselves from malpractice suits.”

Putting aside the question of whether such fears of malpractice suits are justified, and whether doctors are ordering additional tests and procedures because of their need to meet certain institutional billing requirements or financial goals, there are several known negatives to doctors ordering too much medical care. First, if a doctor is worrying so much about what tests need to be ordered in guard against potential future liability, he or she may lose focus on the patient’s current needs for care. Additionally, some physicians may tend to rely too heavily on the results of laboratory testing and radiology findings and minimize the use of their own clinical skills to make appropriate diagnoses based upon what the patient can tell them and what they can learn from thorough physical examinations.

Defensive medicine can also lead to very serious problems for patients. Sometimes the risks of certain tests, procedures and treatments can outweigh the potential benefits to the patients. False positives also exist even with sophisticated medical technology such as CT or MRI scans. And with each new test, scan, medication, procedure, and surgery that is ordered in response to a false positive finding, there are more opportunities for errors by doctors and hospitals. It is also well known that even routine successful surgical procedures can results in complications relating to anesthesia, and hospital-borne infections. And finally, the over-prescribing of medications can lead to mistakes and unforeseen complications.

At the Menzer Law Firm we have many years of experience representing people who have been injured as the result of medical negligence by physicians, hospitals, and nurses. Some of these errors and resulting complications are the unfortunate result of the practice of defensive medicine.

Please feel free to call us if you believe you have been injured by a medical error. We will be happy to speak with you and evaluate your potential claim.


Resources

  • “Medical errors, malpractice, and defensive medicine: an ill-fated triad” – Link
  • “More Treatment, More Mistakes” NYT Op-Ed – Link
  • “Antibiotic resistance and defensive medicine” – Link
  • “The Cost of Defensive Medicine on 3 Hospital Medicine Services” – Link