Are malpractice lawsuits making healthcare more expensive?

Are malpractice lawsuits making healthcare more expensive?

A new study reveals that excessive litigation is likely driving up healthcare costs in the U.S., as doctors remain wary of malpractice suits.

It may seem like your doctor has given you unnecessary tests and screens during a routine checkup, but there is serious reason for these practices. According to a report from the Washington Post, a new study published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday found a correlation between excessive medical screens and fewer malpractice lawsuits.

Scientists studied the practices roughly 24,000 physicians in Florida over a period of nine years and found that in six fields, the doctors who spent the most time and money on their patients were much less likely to be sued.

The study didn’t distinguish, however, if more medical spending during a visit discouraged people from filing a lawsuit, or if it actually led to a real decline in malpractice. According to the study’s head author Anupam Jena, an associate professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School, “The overall goals in health-care reform are to reduce spending. So that strategy has relied on physicians to reduce spending and overutilization, but by doing so you could imagine their liability risk goes up, and that could be a potential obstacle to getting physicians to buy in to what we’re trying to do as a society with healthcare.”

Defensive medicine is a serious concern for people looking to reform healthcare in the United States, and describes the unnecessary blood tests, diagnostic checks, and even hospitalizations that doctors sometimes prescribe to protect themselves from litigation. Defensive medicine costs the United States roughly $60 billion annually.

The study found that defensive medicine actually does lower the number of malpractice lawsuits in the country, regardless of whether or not the extra car was actually necessary for the patient. As lawmakers continue to struggle with the herculean task of reforming the nation’s healthcare system, it is imperative for them to consider litigation in the total cost structure of patient-doctor transactions.

A press release outlining the study’s findings can be found here.


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