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"Defensive medicine" finds support in recent study

One way that medical professionals may attempt to protect themselves from the prospect of becoming defendants in medical malpractice lawsuits is to adopt a very conservative approach to diagnosing injuries and illnesses. These doctors, surgeons, and others will order additional tests to rule out certain possible causes of illness or injury, tests that increase the cost to patients and insurers alike. This practice, known colloquially as "defensive medicine," has been the subject of intense debate as to whether it is really effective in reducing the frequency of medical malpractice lawsuits in Louisiana and elsewhere.

A new study, however, suggests that defensive medicine may in fact have a recognizable impact in reducing the the possibility of doctors being sued for medical malpractice. The study examined data from millions of hospital admissions over nearly 10 years, compared with instances of medical malpractice lawsuits against more than 24,000 physicians. What the study found was that the more money that was spent on a patient - presumably, at least some of which was accounted for by additional diagnostic and other testing and treatment - the less likely it was for a medical malpractice claim to result.

As an example, the study cites internal medicine specialists who spent anywhere from about $20,000 to almost $40,000 per patient, and found that the incidence of medical malpractice claims dropped by a fivefold amount from the low end to the high end (from 1.5 percent to 0.3 percent). This pattern of higher spending equating to fewer medical malpractice claims was uniform across seven medical specialties examined in the study. 

Although the study is not conclusive, and arguments about the effectiveness of defensive medicine will continue, the degree of thoroughness in the diagnostic process - especially in medical malpractice cases involving misdiagnosis - will always merit careful investigation by the plaintiff's personal injury attorney when it comes to identifying all plausible defendants and causes of action.


Source:, "Doctors Who Order More Tests Sued Less Often," Robert Preidt, Nov. 5, 2015

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