The Archives of Internal Medicine recently published an article, “Physician’s Views on Defensive Medicine: A National Survey.” The results were clear and conclusive. Doctors decidedly do order tests which are not medically necessary in order to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits… and the public pays for them, a part of the cost of receiving healthcare. In order to narrow results down to something conclusive and useful, the doctors surveyed were asked to respond to two statements, shown below. The first proves that 91% of all physicians surveyed order those extra tests and procedures to protect themselves. The second demonstrates that the considered opinion of the doctors surveyed is that they will not stop practicing defensive medicine until they are protected against unwarranted litigation by other means (such as Tort Reform.) There may be no shockers for anyone in the medical community there, and it’s certainly not a new conclusion, but this is current and conclusive information to support the desperate need for Tort Reform as soon as possible.

Here are the statements which physicians were asked to respond to:

“Doctors order more tests and procedures than patients need to protect themselves against malpractice suits.”

“Unnecessary use of diagnostic tests will not decrease without protections for physicians against unwarranted malpractice suits.”

One surprising aspect is that primary care physicians with long term doctor-patient relationships (which have historically been at lower risk for malpractice suits) were just as likely as surgical specialists to feel the need to order tests which are not medically necessary. In other words, Marcus Welby would be doing the same thing, if he were around today. Yet those who are expected to be working towards solutions to the healthcare crisis in the U.S. claim that they don’t know where else they can cut costs, or what else they could do. Though not popular with trial lawyers, the answer is obvious: Put reasonable limits on cases. Institute tort reform, so that a greedy few stop driving up the costs for everyone else.

The cost of medical malpractice insurance IS high… but that’s far less than the cost of all of that defensive medicine. Jeff Segal, founder of Medical Justice, points to this easy fix:

Doctors should be immune from litigation if they document following clinical guidelines articulated by their professional societies. Further, if a doctor deviates from such guidelines, he would have qualified immunity if he documents why, in his judgment, it made more sense in a specific case to ignore the guidelines.

These sensible solutions aren’t just benefiting doctors. They also stand to improve patient safety.

Doctors enter the medical profession at great risk and expense, through tremendous effort and self-sacrifice. They continue to demonstrate these traits throughout their years of practice. It’s wrong and unfair to have them be targets for every greedy patient, bad outcome and trial lawyer hoping to get a jackpot payoff out of suing their physician. Tort reforms would put an end to this ugly tactic. More importantly, they will go a very long way towards eliminating otherwise unnecessary expenses that make healthcare unaffordable. Tort reform holds far more real world promise than the recently passed Healthcare Reform law can offer. We strongly advise people to demand tort reform, a very real and sensible way to lower health care costs substantially and immediately.