Doctors on the Defensive

Nov 5, 2009

From the AP:

Dr. James Wang says he tries to tell his patients when extra medical procedures aren't necessary. If they insist, though, he will do it - not so much to protect their health as his own practice. After being sued for allegedly failing to diagnose a case of appendicitis, Wang says he turned to what's known as "defensive medicine," ordering extra tests, scans, consultations and even hospitalization to protect against malpractice suits...Doctors say the hidden costs of the tests along with malpractice insurance and lawsuit awards are major drivers behind the soaring cost of care.

...More than 80 percent of the nearly 900 doctors who responded to a 2008 survey by the Massachusetts Medical Society reported practicing defensive medicine. The group estimated the cost of the extra tests at $281 million and the cost of unnecessary hospital admissions at $1.1 billion. A 2005 study of 824 doctors in Pennsylvania by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Columbia Law School found 93 percent reported practicing defensive medicine.

...A 2009 analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that government health care programs could save $41 billion over 10 years if nationwide limits on jury awards for pain and suffering and other similar curbs were enacted. Those savings are nearly 10 times greater than CBO estimated just last year.

as Thomas Sowell writes:

There are some ways in which the real costs of medical care can be reduced but the people who are leading the charge for a government takeover of medical care are not the least bit interested in actually reducing those costs, as distinguished from shifting the costs around or just refusing to pay them. The high costs of "defensive medicine"-- expensive tests, medications and procedures required to protect doctors and hospitals from ruinous lawsuits, rather than to help the patients -- could be reduced by not letting lawyers get away with filing frivolous lawsuits.

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