Doctors Practice Medicine in Fear, New Study Finds

Feb. 26, 2010

ATLANTA, GA – Nine out of 10 U.S. physicians (92 percent) reported practicing defensive medicine, according to a new online survey released today by Jackson Healthcare, a healthcare management company.

Defensive medicine refers to tests, hospitalizations, prescriptions and surgical procedures physicians consider medically unnecessary, but order in an attempt to avoid lawsuits. 

This means patients are paying more so that doctors don’t get sued.

In Jackson’s survey, physicians attribute 34 percent of overall healthcare costs to defensive medicine.

To validate the findings of their online survey, Jackson Healthcare retained Gallup to conduct an independent national survey of physicians to quantify the scope of defensive medicine practices.  According to Gallup’s study, physicians estimate that one in four dollars (26 percent) spent on health care in America pays for unnecessary tests and treatments.

“According to recent data from The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. spent $2.5 trillion on healthcare in 2009,” said Richard Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of Jackson Healthcare.  “If physician estimates are accurate, this means that $650-850 billion per year is spent on lawsuit-driven medicine.”

“The consequences of this waste affect all of us,” said Jackson.  “Costs go up and quality and access go down when our physicians are under the constant personal threat of litigation.”

According to Jackson, many Americans believe that physicians are personally protected from lawsuits through their malpractice insurance coverage and their affiliation with an institution.  “This is not true.  Physicians are personally financially liable for mistakes and omissions.”

In cases of true negligence, Jackson’s online survey found that nine out of 10 physicians (89 percent) agreed that patients receiving negligent treatment have the right to compensation. 

“Each day our physicians put their careers, reputations and personal livelihoods at risk in order to serve us,” said Jackson.  “Our online survey found that they feel trapped between the Hippocratic Oath and their personal desire to stay out of court and in business.”

According to Jackson’s online survey findings, emergency room, primary care and OB/GYN physicians are most likely to practice defensive medicine, as are female and younger physicians. 

In addition, the survey found that consequences of defensive medicine exist beyond the courtroom.  These include limited patient access to medical care, inadequate treatment of patient illnesses, decreasing physician morale, physician flight from the practice of medicine, and a general distrust between physicians and patients.

“We must find a solution that fosters partnership and trust between physicians and patients,” said Jackson.  “Physicians should not have to fear losing everything they have over one mistake.  Likewise, patients should not have to be put at physical and financial risk because their physicians can’t trust them.”

Over 3,000 physicians spanning all states and medical specialties participated in Jackson Healthcare’s online survey.  The survey error range is at the 95 percent confidence level: +/-1.15 percent.

www.JacksonHealthcare.com

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