Say a middle-aged man goes to the emergency room complaining of chest pain and his doctor is easily able to diagnose the man with indigestion. Rather than sending the man home, the doctor will run a series of tests and procedures to rule out a potential heart attack, despite being fully confident in his indigestion diagnosis. These unnecessary procedures are examples of defensive medicine.
Doctors who employ defensive medicine typically do so to safeguard against possible medical malpractice lawsuits. They will order extra tests and unnecessary procedures in order to cover all their bases so that if they are sued for negligence, they can say they ordered the proper tests. According to a national physician’s survey conducted by Jackson Healthcare, more than 75 percent of doctors say they order more procedures and tests than are medically necessary specifically to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits.
Legislatures Want to Implement a Patient Compensation System to Combat Defensive Medicine
In order to combat defensive medicine and reduce health care costs, the Tennessee Legislature is considering a Patient’s Compensation System, similar to the tort reforms to Texas and California. In these systems, a patient can still receive compensation for medical bills and future lost wages. However, these patient compensation systems put a cap on all non-economic damages, limiting the amount of money a victim of medical malpractice can receive.
For example, say a jury awards a patient whose spine was damaged during a surgery $3 million to compensate for the patient’s future emotional suffering (more specifically, for being stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives), the patient would still receive only $250,000 in spite of the jury initially valuing the decrease in the patient’s future quality of life much higher. Essentially, patients who have been injured due to medical malpractice will receive less than they deserve for their pain and suffering. Moreover, studies show these systems do not necessarily decrease the number of doctors who practice defensive medicine.
Are Doctors Who Practice Defensive Medicine Putting Patients at Risk?
In addition to costing patients thousands of dollars in extra medical bills, defensive medicine practices can also put patients at risk. From a small incision to an exploratory surgery, unnecessary procedures can cause infections, complications and pain. In more serious cases, unnecessary procedures can be deadly. For example, if a patient is put under general anesthesia for a procedure or surgery, the patient is at risk for heart failure, nerve injuries, blindness, anaphylaxis and death. If it seems like your doctor is ordering more tests than may be necessary, it is important to seek a second opinion.
The Law Office of Stanley A. Davis is a personal injury law firm that fights for victims of medical malpractice in Nashville Tennessee.
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5