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Truthful Doctors May Prevent Malpractice Suits

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, February 16, 2012

Physicians also know how costly—financially and emotionally—la malpractice suit can be. In a policy report issued at the end of 2011, the American Medical Association stated that the average cost of defending a physician against a medical liability claim was $47,158 in 2010. That's an increase of 62.7% since 2001. Still, 63.7% of all closed claims against physicians were dropped, withdrawn, or dismissed.

For physicians, the local malpractice environment sometimes influences their "attitudes and behaviors," including how honest they are about errors, according to Iezzoni.

Her study showed that cardiologists and general surgeons were most likely to report never having told patients an untruth in the previous year, while pediatricians and psychiatrists were least likely to report never having told untruths. 

More physicians practicing in universities or medical centers, (78.1%) completely agreed with the need to report all serious medical errors than physicians in solo or two-person practices (60.5%).

The reason appears simple: small practices don't have as much legal leverage, so physicians from these practices with less clout are also less likely to be as forthcoming.

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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.