The results of a study conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change that was funded by the National Institute for Health Care Reform and which appears in the August 2013 edition of the journal Health Affairs found that office-based physicians who reported a high level of medical malpractice concern were most likely to engage in practices that would be considered defensive medicine when diagnosing patients who visited their offices with new complaints of chest pain, headache, or lower back pain, and that it did not matter whether the states in which they practiced had enacted medical malpractice tort reforms or the extent of the reforms.
In this study, the physicians’ Medicare patients were found to have received more diagnostic tests and emergency department referrals by physicians who worry more about their medical malpractice liability, regardless of whether the states in which they practice have enacted medical malpractice tort reforms.
The study found that when the researchers compared the physicians’ level of medical malpractice concern with objective indicators of malpractice liability risk at the state level, such as caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, there were no consistent relationships.
While past research studies involving medical malpractice focused on the self-reporting of physicians regarding how they would treat hypothetical patients and various measures of liability risk (including medical malpractice tort reforms such as caps on damages), this study linked physicians’ responses regarding their levels of medical malpractice concern as reported in the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey to Medicare Parts A and B claims for the patients they treated during the period from 2007 to 2009.
One of the co-authors of the study stated, “Traditional malpractice liability reforms don’t appear to resolve the concerns that drive physicians to practice defensive medicine.”
The heavy-handed campaign employed by the health care industry in the United States for the adoption of so-called medical malpractice “tort reforms,” such as arbitrary limits placed on the amount of noneconomic damages (for debilitating and life-long pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, etc.) that the innocent victims of medical negligence may recover from their health care providers who were the sole cause of the unnecessary and devastating harm suffered by them, typically decries that allowing fair and adequate compensation for medical malpractice victims leads to many unwelcomed consequences, including high medical malpractice insurance rates for doctors, “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits, and the practice of defensive medicine that unnecessarily increases the costs of medical care for all of us. Now, perhaps, this study will be cited in eliminating one basis for the careless, reckless, and unsupported claim that medical malpractice tort reform serves a social good.
If you or a loved one were seriously injured as a result of medial malpractice in the United States, you should promptly contact a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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