How to Reduce the Cost of Defensive Medicine

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More than 75 percent of physicians—and virtually all physicians in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and gynecology and neurosurgery—face a medical-malpractice claim over the course of their career. While litigation costs are higher for claims that result in awards, litigation costs for claims that do not result in awards are still significant, averaging $17,130. Moreover, physicians spend an average of 11 percent of their careers with an unresolved malpractice claim, and claims that did not result in payments account for more than 70 percent of this time.

This length of time negatively impacts both physicians and patients. Physicians have less time to treat patients when responding to these claims and face the potential of tarnished reputations, while patients with legitimate claims must wait for resolution. These lengthy time periods can also delay implementation of quality and safety-related changes to medical practices that might prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

Faced with both financial and nonfinancial costs, the risk of being sued may cause physicians to practice what is known as defensive medicine, or the ordering of excessive and unnecessary medical tests, procedures, or further consultations done in part to protect the physician from accusations of negligence. Defensive medicine increases health care costs without improving health outcomes.

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