For years there has been a constant debate regarding the so-called need for ‘tort reform,’ also known as caps on damages, and whether or not this is a beneficial practice. The main argument is that by placing caps on the amount of money that can be received when someone is the victim of medical malpractice will help ease the staggering costs of healthcare in our country. The problem is that medical malpractice plays a very little part in the cost of healthcare and defensive medicine is playing a much bigger role in not only costs but the high occurrence of malpractice in the first place.
A study released by Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group, revealed that the costs of medical malpractice in the United States reached a record low in 2011. Furthermore, the total costs for malpractice only accounted for .12 percent of the healthcare costs—firmly rebuking the stance that malpractice is driving up the costs of medical care.
In order to prevent medical malpractice, medical professionals are focusing less on providing better service and more on doing as much treatment as possible in attempts to avoid error. The problem is that this ‘defensive’ medicine is actually causing more problems. In a recent CNN report by Doctor Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital, he explained that:
Defensive medicine is rooted in the goal of avoiding mistakes. But each additional procedure or test, no matter how cautiously performed, injects a fresh possibility of error. CT and MRI scans can lead to false positives and unnecessary operations, which carry the risk of complications like infections and bleeding. The more medications patients are prescribed, the more likely they are to accidentally overdose or suffer an allergic reaction. Even routine operations like gallbladder removals require anesthesia, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
So while doctors and other medical professionals are thinking that performing more tests and doling out extra medication will protect them from committing malpractice, they are actually increasing the chances that medical error will occur. Gupta’s report also explained that in the United States, the percentage of visits to a doctor that result in the prescription of five or more drugs has nearly tripled since 1996.
Doctors are not shying away from admitting the unnecessary nature of their practices either as one anonymous survey showed that 24 percent of the tests ordered by orthopedic surgeons were medically unnecessary.
Within recent years, we had one client fall victim to this ‘defensive medicine’ mindset. He was seeing two doctors who both continued to overprescribe our client narcotic pain killers. This not only led our client to become addicted to these drugs but also lead to his death. Through a jury trial, the mother of our client was awarded over $4,000,000—if defensive medicine is supposed to lower costs and errors, I simply do not see how.
Professionals in the medical field need to worry less about the potential of a lawsuit and more about providing the very best care to their patients. Gupta said it best when he expressed, “We fail to uphold our profession’s basic oath: ‘First, do no harm.’” Only then will this country see a lowering in both deaths and injuries due to medical error and lower healthcare costs.