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Truthful Doctors May Prevent Malpractice Suits

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, February 16, 2012

When it comes to malpractice, it seems physicians have developed their own case of "white-coat syndrome."

Their worries about malpractice litigation might actually be making it worse, and hurting healthcare in the process. That's because doctors are keeping their mistakes under wraps, or performing too many tests or costly procedures to avoid a trip to the courthouse.

Instead, physicians should be opening lines of communication with patients, admitting when something goes wrong, and curtailing excessive treatments.  They can fight the tort war one step at a time from the moment they pick up that stethoscope.

Two recent reports express urgency about the need to change.

A recent HealthLeaders Media Industry 2012 survey  (PDF) shows that a whopping 58% of physician leaders said they ordered a test or procedure for primarily defensive medicine reasons in the past year.

That figure is all the more stunning because only 2% reported ordering a test or procedure for primarily revenue-related reasons.

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2 comments on "Truthful Doctors May Prevent Malpractice Suits"


Deb Levy (2/16/2012 at 4:23 PM)
I can tell you from personal experience that it's true admitting a mistake can save a world of hurt. There was a mix-up in the size of the knees replacement in the OR and 3 days post-op the femur fractured. After the open internal fixation of the fracture the surgeon told of the error and the possiblity that was the reason for the fracture. I so appreciated the honesty that when further complications occurred & he said the treatment was best done by subspecialist I trusted him. Even after the leg ended up being amputated (due to a multitude of complications) I never considered suing, although there were plenty of people who said we should. Never once have I regretted not suing. Heaven couldn't have helped him had I found out the error some way other than him telling me!

C Ghosh (2/16/2012 at 3:51 PM)
Sadly this HealthLeaders study falls into the trap so many other similar studies do: It makes the assumption that there actually is something called "defensive medicine" and that doctors are consciously doing extra testing for fear of a lawsuit. Doctors, who have been accused of driving up national medical costs by over ordering testing, have defensively fallen back on the "fear of malpractice made me do it" excuse. The truth is EVERY TIME a doctor orders a test, the doctor needs that extra information. For example, if a patient has a cut on her hand, her doctor won't order a CT Scan of her foot. NEVER. A headache may warrant a CT Scan because we don't know what's causing it. While health economists see this as extra testing, it's not to the doctor who is trying to make the correct diagnosis. Doctors have been so conditioned to think that anything the outside experts may think as superfluous is "defensive medicine," that doctors themselves label every extra test as "defensive medicine." The real kicker in this survey is that only 2% ordered for financial gain.