THE HIGH COST OF DEFENSIVE MEDICINE

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that defensive medicine adds $210 billion to America’s medical bill. Kevin Pho explains, in USA Today, why doctors order so many CYA tests: 

The simple reason is that every physician wants to avoid being sued.Win or lose, the ordeal of a malpractice trial is a devastating experience.

But do good doctors really need to be this paranoid? Yep.

A landmark study from The New England Journal of Medicine analyzed more than 1,400 malpractice claims and found that in almost 40% of cases, no medical error was involved.

But that doesn’t matter to shakedown artists trial lawyers like John Edwards.  Well, then, what can be done?

Remove the incentives to order defensive tests. Specifically, the malpractice system needs to do a better job to not try doctors who experience poor medical outcomes despite practicing the appropriate standard of care.

The key is tort reform. Unfortunately, the people who control Congress these days are owned by by the trial lawyers. So, don’t look for that $210 billion add on to go down any time soon.

Comments 1

  1. AndrewBW wrote:

    You’re right that the NEJM study found that 40% of the cases it surveyed had no medical error. But a more detailed discussion of the study’s findings would note that it found that 60% of cases had both injury and error, 37% had injury but no error, and 3% had no injury and no error. The 37% reflects the fact that, as every doctor knows, sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to. But as the authors of the study themselves note:

    “[O]ur findings underscore how difficult it may be for plaintiffs and their attorneys to discern what has happened before the initiation of a claim and the acquisition of knowledge that comes from the investigations, consultation with experts, and sharing of information that litigation triggers.”

    The truth is, doctors and hospitals are sometimes really lousy at disclosure. I’m willing to bet that at least some of those 37% of cases in which there was injury but no error could have been resolved by better communication and disclosure by doctors and hospitals.

    You can read the full NEJM study at: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/354/19/2024.

    Posted 28 May 2008 at 12:08 pm

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