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Fear of Malpractice Litigation

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, September 9, 2010

While defensive medicine has been practiced for years, it is a particular problem in healthcare reform, Reschovsky and his co-authors write.

Under healthcare reform, financial and organization changes have introduced new sources of stress for healthcare providers, sharpening their demands for liability reform in exchange for their support for other health reform measures, they write.

And the mere presence of defensive medicine poses a liability risk that is an "obstacle to health reform's ambition of moving physicians toward more cost-effective care," according to the authors.

Referring to the fear of malpractice report, "I think it has important policy implications in terms of how we go forward in terms of reforming malpractice laws," Reschovsky says. "The fundamental way of reforming the system is take it less confrontational. The malpractice system does serve a public benefit, in terms of motivating physicians to stay at the top of their game and making the patient whole for when bad things happen."

"There are some models out there that would take resolution of the malpractice claims out of the court system and make it something more like workers' compensation," he says.

Dealing with the issue is extremely important to reduce costs in healthcare reform because "if physicians are fundamentally fearful of being sued they'll still order that extra test," he says.

Sometimes what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address  about economic struggles at the time may be important to remember in the battle inside our own heads in dealing with potential litigation. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," the president said in 1933 about the U.S.


Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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