MALPRACTICE WORRIES HELP DRIVE HEALTH COSTS

April 15, 2010

A substantial number of heart doctors -- about one in four -- say they order medical tests that might not be needed out of fear of getting sued, according to a new study. 

Nearly 600 doctors were surveyed for the study to determine how aggressively they treat their patients and whether non-medical issues have influenced their decisions to order invasive heart tests: 

  • Most said they weren't swayed by such things as financial gain or a patient's expectations.
  • About 24 percent of the doctors said they had recommended the test in the previous year because they were worried about malpractice lawsuits.
  • About 27 percent said they did it because they thought their colleagues would do the test.
  • Doctors who treated their patients aggressively were more likely to be influenced by malpractice worries or peer pressure than those who were not as aggressive. 

For the study, the doctors were asked to recommend tests and treatment for three hypothetical heart patients.  They were also asked whether other issues had led them to recommend the heart test.  Their answers were used to score them on how aggressively they tend to treat patients. 

Using Medicare records, the researchers found that doctors with higher scores were more likely to be in the areas with higher spending overall or higher rates for a heart test, although the differences were small.  They suggest targeting malpractice concerns could help reduce the regional differences. 

Source: Stephanie Nano, "Malpractice worries help drive health costs," The Associated Press, April 13, 2010. 

 

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