Aug 28

Defensive Medicine: More Than Just Another Extra X-Ray

by Wayne W. Oliver     Originally published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on June 5, 2013.

med-mal3Defensive medicine occurs when physicians order tests, procedures or consultations of doubtful clinical value in order to protect themselves from costly and frivolous malpractice suits.  Doctors detest the very thought of being sued so they find every means possible to avoid litigation.

And that includes ordering numerous unnecessary and expensive tests and procedures.

While not all Georgia physicians practice defensive medicine, the overwhelming majority do. According to a recent survey conducted by Oppenheim Research, 82 percent of Georgia doctors say they perform unnecessary tests, procedures and referral consultations exclusively to avoid a medical malpractice claim.

A 2010 Gallup Poll of physicians found that one-in-four healthcare dollars is spent on defensive medicine. A great deal of money is “wasted” on the practice of defensive medicine. Last year, Georgians were subjected to $14 billion of unnecessary tests, procedures or consultations with little or no clinical or treatment value.

And who picks up that $14 billion defensive medicine tab? We all do.

The bulk of those costs are paid for by the business community and employers through health insurance plans. Another sizeable chunk of defensive medicine is paid for by Georgia taxpayers covering the cost of the state’s Medicaid patients. Also, as patients and consumers of healthcare, we all pay higher deductibles and copayments for the multitude of unnecessary tests, procedures and consultations from x-rays to blood work to MRIs and CT scans.

And, because healthcare costs continue to escalate — due in part to defensive medicine — all of our health insurance premiums are going up just to pay for defensive medicine. As a result, employers are shifting more the cost of health insurance onto employees.

To put this into perspective, as a result of our current medical litigation system, every man, woman and child in Georgia is paying over $1,200 annually for unnecessary tests, procedures and consultations which have no clinical or treatment value.

Defensive medicine is a very costly consequence of our medical liability litigation system. But defensive medicine costs us more than in our wallets.

Georgians are also exposed to extra radiation due to unnecessary x-rays and CT scans. We are also being over medicated, over treated and over exposed. Oppenheim Research found that 74 percent of Georgia physicians said that defensive medicine “negatively impacts patient care.”

So, the current medical litigation system is driving up healthcare costs for employers, health plans, employees, patients and taxpayers. And, it is having a negative impact on patient care.

When our healthcare system gets to the point that it is causing perverse outcomes such as defensive medicine, it is time to get serious about bold change. It is time for a frank conversation about how we might transform the medical litigation system in order to improve healthcare costs while saving lives and saving money.



About the author