a recent survey of more

A recent survey of more than 1,000 doctors asked two questions:

  1. Do physicians order more tests and procedures than patients need to protect themselves from malpractice suits?
  2. Are protections against unwarranted medical malpractice lawsuits needed to decrease the unnecessary use of diagnostic tests?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than 90 percent of doctors polled responded with a resounding “yes” to both questions. However, the study questions, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, seem leading. The focus of both is supposedly “unwarranted” medical malpractice lawsuits.

It seems you could add the questions:

  • What counts as an unwarranted medical malpractice lawsuit, or what injured patients do not deserve consideration?
  • If “unnecessary” diagnostic tests prevent medical errors and malpractice suits, in what way are they unnecessary?

Defensive medicine, according to one of the study’s co-authors, costs the United States billions of dollars every year. Perhaps one of the problems facing the U.S. healthcare system is the idea that additional and unnecessary medical tests are the appropriate response to malpractice lawsuits.

A lawsuit filed because a necessary test was not performed or a warning sign was wrongfully ignored is not a sign that every possible test must be performed. Ordering more tests than necessary is like washing the hands of any liability, saying “I ordered every test the patient might need and, therefore, have done all I can.”

Medical malpractice suits should send a signal that something is wrong with the current system. Perhaps these problems are better addressed with increased oversight, increased safety and a change in hospital philosophy?

Mistakes are inevitable, in the long run, but should the family of a patient who died on the operating table because of a doctor’s mistake be asked to forgive and forget? That seems dismissive and unfair.

Related Resource

  • 9 in 10 Docs Blame Lawsuit Fears for Overtesting (Associated Press)

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