“Defensive Medicine” is a phrase used when doctors order extra tests or perform additional procedures because they are concerned about being sued for “missing something.” However, studies do not support the idea that the extra tests or procedures are warranted and actually reduce the risk of a physician being sued.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that the greatest predictor of whether a physician is likely to be sued is whether he or she has been sued before. In other words, physicians who have been sued once are much more likely to be sued again. Between 1991 and 2005, 6% of all doctors in the United States were estimated to be responsible for 58% of all malpractice payments.
A 1994, a study looked at the relationship between physicians’ history of malpractice lawsuits and their patients’ satisfaction with the care that they were receiving from their doctor. The study revealed that patients treated by doctors who had been sued in the past were significantly more likely to report that their doctor rushed them, did not explain reasons for tests, or ignored their complaints or questions.
This problem is further compounded by health insurers, with whom physicians contract to provide care, and with whom provide doctors with guidelines as to how much time can or should be spent with each patient. If a doctor only has a 10 minute window to examine and speak with a patient, then they may not have enough time to properly communicate with their patient.
It is clear that one way to decrease the number of medical malpractice lawsuits is by encouraging physicians to spend time listening to and communicating with their patients. Rather than order a number of unnecessary tests, simply asking about the patient’s concerns and discussing the plan of care and treatment with the patient may lead to better communication. Then, hopefully, this process will reduce that doctor’s anxiety over potential lawsuits, and eliminate the need to practice defensive medicine at all.