There’s no question that the cost of health care in the United States is far higher than in other developed nations, and somehow still produces worse outcomes. And although there are competing theories for why health care is so expensive, some claim that it is due to doctors practicing “defensive medicine.” This term is used to describe the practice of doctors ordering unnecessary tests and other procedures simply to shield themselves from medical malpractice lawsuits.
But is this really a common problem? And if so, does it account for a significant portion of the excessive spending in U.S. Healthcare? A recent study seems to suggest that excessive testing is happening, but even those results aren’t definitive.
Is there any correlation?
Researchers from Emory University recently published the results of a study looking at medical imaging trends among Medicare patients over a 12-year period. The authors concluded that there was a correlation between the high-risk level of litigation in certain states and an increase in spending on advanced medical imaging.
Even if these results are accurate, it is important to point out that correlation is not causation. In other words, there is not evidence to prove that malpractice risks are causing doctors to order more tests and to practice defensive medicine. Moreover, there are plenty of real-life cases that show what can go wrong when doctors perform too few tests and don’t take patient concerns seriously.
One example is a 38-year-old Missouri woman who was sent home from the emergency room after being told that she very likely wasn’t having a heart attack and that it was unnecessary to get an electrocardiogram. Two days later, when her pain hadn’t gone away, she came back to the hospital and finally got an ECG and additional testing. It showed 100 percent blockage in her left anterior descending artery. She thankfully survived what could have been a lethal mistake, but now she needs a heart transplant due to the damage that was done.
Some doctors may be ordering too many tests simply as a liability shield. And if they’re paying more attention to checking boxes than to their patients, these doctors are making the same mistakes as doctors who fail to order necessary tests. Inattention is problematic in both scenarios. But too much testing at least increases the chance that some other medical professional will notice problematic test results and intervene on the patient’s behalf.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured due to medical negligence and physician inattention, please speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your rights and legal options.