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Massachusetts Doctors Say Fear of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Compels Them to Practice Defensive Medicine

According to the Massachusetts Medical Society, many physicians in the state are so afraid that patients will sue them for medical malpractice that they order unnecessary procedures, hospital stays, tests, and referrals just to prevent lawsuits from happening. Their “defensive medicine” practices are reportedly causing healthcare costs in Massachusetts to increase by at least $1.4 billion each year.

The society also noted that this financial figure is likely an underestimation of the problem because only 900 doctors took party in the survey, accounting for just 46% of all Massachusetts doctors. Family doctors, general surgeons, obstetricians, and gynecologists were among the physicians who took part in the survey.

One doctor, former medical society president Alan Woodward, said the study results clearly show the need to change the system so that doctors can admit that they’ve made medical errors and injured patients can be fairly compensated in arbitration. Woodward noted that unnecessary tests, such as image testing, could expose patients to unnecessary injuries, such as allergic reactions to dyes, radiation exposure, biopsy complications, and infections.

38% of the physicians who took part in the survey noted that their fear of becoming a defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit caused them to reduce the number of high-risk procedures they perform. 28% of the doctors surveyed said that fear of liability often affected the kind of care they provided patients. In the Journal of the American Medical Associaton, a 2005 survey found that 93% of US doctors practiced defensive medicine.

Medical Malpractice
In most cases, medical care is supposed to help a patient get better or prevent him or her from getting worse. If you believe that you or you loved one’s injuries or worsened condition are a result of errors made by a Massachusetts doctor, nurse, medical technician, or another medical provider, you need to consider your legal options. Massachusetts physicians owe all patients a duty of care. Failure to provide that care is negligence and can be grounds for a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit.

Doctors’ fear of lawsuits tied to added costs of $1.4b, Boston.com, November 18, 2008
MMS First-of-its-kind Survey of Physicians Shows Extent and Cost of the Practice of Defensive Medicine and its Multiple Effects of Health Care on the State, Massachusetts Medical Society, November 17, 2008
Wasted Medical Dollars, USA Today, April 23, 2008
Related Web Resources:

Massachusetts Medical Society

Defensive Medicine Report, Massachusetts Medical Society (PDF)

Please contact our Boston medical malpractice lawyers at Altman & Altman LLP to discuss your case.