What Is — and Isn’t – Defensive Medicine?
Many tort reform advocates claim that patient lawsuits for medical malpractice change the way doctors provide treatment. As Time reports, doctors may practice what they call “defensive medicine,” or order more tests and take other measures than what is necessary to effectively treat a patient. Some in the medical community and their health insurers justify this practice by saying it is a way to protect themselves against medical malpractice claims for failure to diagnose a condition.
These same groups argue for tort reform measures that make it more difficult for patients and their families to bring lawsuits or that limit the amount which they can recover in damages. (Alabama currently has no limit or cap on how much a successful plaintiff can receive in damages.) Tort reform, these groups argue, can eliminate the need for defensive medicine and, in turn, lower the cost of treatment.
However, many argue that defensive medicine is actually a myth and contend that medical providers actually use defensive medicine to increase healthcare costs and generate more revenue for themselves.
What Is Defensive Medicine?
Defensive medicine occurs when doctors order diagnostic tests for patients who may not necessarily require the test in order to be properly treated. According to an article published in the Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research, defensive medicine can be both positive and negative.
With positive defensive medicine, certain diagnostic tests may benefit patients – even if they are unnecessary and drive up a patient’s costs. The patient generally suffers no harm from the tests.
Negative defensive medicine occurs when a doctor avoids performing risky procedures even though the patient would have benefited from them. A doctor may avoid a risky procedure that is likely to help a patient if the doctor thinks the risk may be unreasonable – to the doctor.
Doctors and hospital insurers justify defensive medicine. They insist that it is an unavoidable part of practicing medicine in today’s world. Doctors may believe that they will be in a better position to defend against a medical malpractice lawsuit if they can say that they ordered a test to rule out a certain diagnosis. Doctors often argue that defensive medicine protects them from litigation and allays the fears of patients.
However, doctors continue to practice defensive medicine even in states that have enacted tort reform laws. Apparently, doctors in those states still fear the possibility of a lawsuit.
In a piece in Forbes, one doctor argued that eliminating the possibility of doctors getting sued could be a way to stop defensive medicine. The doctor suggested the creation of a system in which patients would receive compensation for medical malpractice claims outside of the court system. By eliminating medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors would be free to act solely in the best interests of their patients, the doctor asserted.
What Is Not Defensive Medicine?
Not every diagnostic test that a doctor orders falls in the category of defensive medicine. A doctor may order a whole panel of tests to exclude a condition or to properly diagnose one that is not easily diagnosed. There is a difference between defensive medicine and careful medicine.
If defensive medicine is based on a fear or litigation and a doctor having to pay large sums of money to a patient, then it would follow that the practice of defensive medicine would end in states where tort reform laws are in effect. However, research indicates otherwise.
A 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that defensive medicine may actually be a myth. The study concluded that substantial changes in the malpractice standard for emergency doctors in three states – Texas, Georgia and South Carolina – had little effect on how the doctors acted. The doctors in those states continued to practice defensive medicine as they did before the changes.
This study underscores how patients should not be restricted in how they seek a recovery or how much they recover. Instead, to reduce the costs of medical care, states should look to other areas. Curbing medical malpractice lawsuits without any guarantee that the process of overcharging patients for unnecessary procedures and tests will cease or decrease only serves to punish patients.
Get Help from an Experienced Birmingham Medical Malpractice Lawyer
You may be eligible to seek compensation if you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered injury due to a doctor’s negligence. However, medical malpractice cases can get very complicated and require detailed investigations of medical records, consultation with experts and determination of the standard of care that a doctor was supposed to meet. A patient must also show that the doctor’s actions proximately caused the injuries that the patient suffered.
For this reason, it is important to seek help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Contact Serious Injury Law Group today for a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you to pursue all compensation you may be entitled to receive.
Chuck James is a Mobile native who graduated from University of Alabama. Chuck has been practicing law since early 2000. Contact Chuck James today for help with your personal injury case. Free consultations. Locations in Birmingham and Montgomery.