Study Finds Rising Prevalence of Defensive Medicine

March 6, 2017

The results of a groundbreaking study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia revealed that a major portion of the tests performed by doctors fall under the category of defensive medicine, prescribed by physicians to protect themselves from potential lawsuits rather than out of medical necessity.

Seventy-two orthopedic surgeons agreed to track the tests they ordered, which, over the duration of the study involved 2,068 patients, most of whom were adults. Interactions with these individuals occurred during regular office visits, trips to the emergency room, and in other settings.

Of the total tests administered, 20 percent could be termed “defensive.” Broken down by type, the numbers pointed to 11 percent of X-rays, 39 percent of MRIs, 33 percent of CAT scans, 57 percent of bone scans, and 53 percent of ultrasounds.

In doctors who had faced a malpractice lawsuit in the past five years, the level of defensive testing rose markedly. Interestingly, the announcement of the test results at the meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in California on February 16 came one day after the Obama administration proposed an overall of state medical malpractice statutes to curb spurious lawsuits.

Dr. John Flynn, of the Children’s Hospital said, “This study is a glimpse behind the curtain of what’s happening in a doctor’s mind. Doctors who fear patients will second-guess their diagnosis or otherwise present potential trouble that could turn legal will likely order more tests to protect themselves. In most cases patients do not realize that pushing for more testing in the belief it leads to greater accuracy only results in higher bills, greater health care costs, and unnecessary exposure to radiation.