“Defensive medicine,” the practice of doctors ordering and performing more tests and procedures than may be medically necessary out of fear that they might miss something and end up getting sued for malpractice, has often been offered as a justification for tort reform. The thought is that doctors, fearful of being sued, are engaging in defensive medicine which in turn drives up health care costs. Eliminate the fear of lawsuits through tort reform, and you will eliminate defensive medicine, the thinking goes.
However a new study, conducted by researchers from the Center for Studying Health System Change, Harvard University and the University of Iowa, would seem to challenge this idea. The study looked at a number of issues, and did ultimately conclude that physicians concerned about malpractice lawsuits were more likely to order more diagnostic tests. But the study also looked at how statutory caps on damages in medical malpractice cases impact defensive medicine. Texas and California both have medical malpractice damages caps. The study found that doctors in those states were not significantly less worried about being sued, as compared to doctors in states without such caps. Therefore at least based on the results from this particular study, it would appear that damages caps may not be an effective method of tort reform.