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Doctors may overtreat to protect themselves from lawsuits

Whether a patient is seen in a New York doctor's office or in the emergency room, a single complaint may lead to a battery of tests, each one designed to rule out potential causes of the ailment. The patient may leave the facility with a prescription or even an appointment for a surgical procedure to treat the complaint. However, a recent study shows that many doctors overtreat their patients because they are afraid of being sued for malpractice.

The study, authored by a physician from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, surveyed thousands of physicians from across the country and learned that the doctors themselves feel about 30 percent of the care they give is not necessary. This includes about 22 percent of the prescriptions they write, almost 25 percent of diagnostic tests they order and more than 11 percent of medical procedures they perform on patients. Some studies link overtreatment with an increase in patient injury.

While a small percentage of doctors admit to providing unneeded care for their own financial benefit, an overwhelming number, about 85 percent, cite the fear of lawsuits as the driving reason for their excess care. Interestingly, 52 percent of the doctors admit they often respond to patient pressure when prescribing drugs or running unnecessary tests. More than half of the responders believe doctors would be able to reduce the number of unnecessary services if medical residents had better diagnostic training and if patient health records were more easily accessible.

Unnecessary tests and procedures continue to drive up the cost of health care. Nevertheless, the threat of medical malpractice claims is very real to the average physician. New York doctors who face such lawsuits are fortunate to have the advocacy of an attorney devoted to defending the livelihood of medical professionals.

Source: medicalxpress.com, "Unneeded medical care is common and driven by fear of malpractice, physician survey concludes", Sept. 6, 2017

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