Do fears of medical malpractice lawsuits cause doctors to over-treat patients?
It’s natural for patients suffering from illness to place their trust in highly trained doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals. With a recent survey finding that doctors across the United States fear being subject to medical malpractice lawsuits to the point where overtreatment of patients is common, too, it may be easy to believe that the odds of being subject to medical malpractice may be lower than ever before. But despite doctors’ claims that fear of medical malpractice lawsuits often leads to costly forms of overtreatment, countless studies exist suggesting just the opposite: that only 2-3 percent of patients injured due to medical negligence take legal action. Furthermore, only half receive compensation for their injuries.
Study suggests doctors believe malpractice cases to be serious issue
According to Healthline, more than 2,000 primary care doctors and specialists were surveyed by medical journal, PLOS ONE, about their attitudes toward unnecessary medical care. On average, healthcare professionals involved in the survey believe that 20 percent of all medical care across the United States is not necessary. Only five percent of doctors said they believed all medical care is necessary. Procedures cited most often by doctors and specialists involved in the study include 25 percent of all medical testing, 22 percent of all medication prescribed and 11 percent of total procedures.
When asked by researchers why doctors believe these procedures to be unnecessary, 85 percent said they feared being held liable for medical malpractice - while implicating their colleagues more so than themselves for providing unnecessary medical care. Other issues cited by doctors for over-treatment included an inability to access medical records from other hospitals, patient demands, and disturbingly, 71 percent of doctors surveyed said they believe health care professionals are more likely to provide unnecessary care if health care professionals will profit financially from doing so.
Are medical malpractice cases on the rise?
While health care professionals may be quick to give the impression that fear of legal action leads to over-treatment of patients, and that this over-treatment thus reduces the risk of medical malpractice, studies indicate this is simply not the case. Healthline also reports that only a fraction of patients - two to three percent - choose to take legal action after being injured due to medical negligence, with only half receiving financial compensation for their injuries. This serves as further evidence to the JAMA Network’s 2014 study finding that malpractice claims against physicians were cut in half between 2000 and 2013.
Despite doctors’ claims that unnecessary medical care is leading to costly overtreatment, it’s critical for these doctors to never put profit, or fear of legal ramifications, ahead of providing the most comprehensive treatment possible for each injury victim. A failure to do so can leave doctors facing their worst fear, a medical malpractice lawsuit, while victims of medical negligence may never fully recover from their injuries.