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Defensive medicine is expensive, but prevents malpractice suits

Out of desire to avoid potential litigation, many doctors in Ohio practice what is called “defensive medicine.” This term refers to being extra cautious with patients, ordering more tests and procedures than the doctor otherwise might, out of an abundance of caution.

These frequently unnecessary tests are costly; UPI reports that they are responsible for about $50 billion in U.S. health care costs every year. But at the individual level, they are helping many doctors avoid being sued for medical malpractice, according to a new study.

Researchers examined data from 18.5 million hospital admissions in Florida from 2000-09, along with the history of malpractice accusations against the nearly 25,000 physicians who cared for those patients. The study found 4,342 malpractice claims filed against those doctors. Some specialists had up to 4.1 percent of their patients turn around and sue them.

The numbers also indicated that doctors who charged their patients for more tests had fewer malpractice claims against them in six of seven specialties. Doctors in the top 20 percent of spending had a 0.3 percent chance of a malpractice filing, while those in the bottom 20 percent had a 1.4 percent chance of a filing.

Not that all these extra tests mean the patient is getting better care and reducing the risk of something going wrong. The researchers believe that defensive medicine gives patients the impression their doctor is working extra-hard to avoid making a mistake. Patients may thus be less likely to sue, and when they do sue, juries are more likely to side with the doctor.

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