Fear of Lawsuits Drives Costs in ED, Says ACEP

John Commins, May 31, 2011

More than half of emergency physicians in a recent poll say they practice defensive medicine to protect themselves from lawsuits.

The survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians found that 44% of nearly 1,800 emergency physicians say the fear of lawsuits is the biggest challenge to cutting costs in the emergency department. And 53% say that fear of litigation drives many of the tests they order. 

“Medical liability reform is essential to meaningful healthcare reform,” ACEP President Sandra Schneider, MD, said in a media release. “Without it, healthcare costs will continue to rise. Estimates on the costs of defensive medicine range from $60 billion to $151 billion per year. That dwarfs total expenditures on emergency care, which at $47.3 billion in 2008 represented just 2% of all healthcare spending.”

The poll also found that 68% of respondents said there has been no improvement in the number of medical specialists willing to take ED call since healthcare reform legislation passed last year. Many specialists cite the fear of being sued as one of the top reasons.

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“Texas offers us a great example of the benefits of tort reform,” Schneider said. “After the state passed medical liability reform, 33 rural counties have added at least one emergency physician, including 24 counties that previously had none. Nationwide, according to the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research, states with caps on non-economic damages saw a 3% to 4% decrease in healthcare costs.” Schneider said patient safety has improved in Texas since liability reform.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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