What exactly is defensive medicine? It sounds like it would be a medication that would defend patients. But it’s not, it’s really quite the opposite, defensive medicine is when doctors go to extra, expensive lengths to prevent being sued for medical malpractice by ordering large numbers of diagnostic tests or prescribing unneeded medicine. Defensive medicine is a significant force driving the high cost of healthcare in the U.S. Not only are the vast majority of physicians practicing defensive medicine but many younger physicians are being taught to do so right from the start. In a report by Jackson Healthcare the following was discovered.
· Physicians estimate the cost of defensive medicine to be in the $650-$850 billion range, or between 26 and 34 percent of annual healthcare costs in the U.S.
· 76 percent of physicians reported that defensive medicine decreases patients’ access to healthcare
· 53 percent reported delaying adoption of new medical techniques, procedures and treatments due to fear of lawsuits
From the data above it seems like defensive medicine is driving up health care costs not medical malpractice claims. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the total spent defending claims and compensating victims of medical negligence in 2007 was $7.1 billion—just 0.3% of health care costs. Which means the direct costs associated with medical malpractice are a tiny fraction of health care costs.
As Virginia (VA) medical malpractice attorneys we know from experience that there are many situations in which a doctor was negligent or did not realize his or her mistake until it was too late. This can happen in the operating room including anesthesia mistakes, improper sterilization, technical errors, nerve damage, unnecessary surgery, surgery on the wrong part of the body, foreign objects left in the body or even organ puncture. Or the patient may have been improperly or misdiagnosed this can occur withmisread x-rays, misread test results, failure to order common diagnostic tests, and ignored or missed symptoms. Whatever the cause of the medical malpractice the victim’s life is changed forever or sometimes even lost.