NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Surgeons Order Imaging Tests for Defensive Purposes

March 4, 2011

For many years now, some physicians have ordered specific diagnostic procedures that are of little or no benefit to a patient, largely to protect themselves from a lawsuit.  Until now, however, efforts to actually measure defensive medicine practices have been limited primarily to surveys sent to physicians.  In a new study from the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), however, researchers look at the actual practice decisions of physicians regarding defensive imaging.

  • The study found that 19 percent of the imaging tests ordered were for defensive purposes.
  • Defensive imaging was responsible for $113,369 of $325,309 (34.8 percent) of total imaging charges for this patient cohort, based on Medicare dollars.
  • The overall cost of these tests was 35 percent of all imaging ordered because the most common test was an MRI, an imaging test which costs more than a regular X-ray.

Researchers found that surgeons were more likely to practice defensively if they had been in practice for more than 15 years, says the AAOS.

Source: "Healthcare Spending: Study Shows High Imaging Costs for Defensive Purposes," American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, February 16, 2011.


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