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ER Doctors Say They May Overtest and Overtreat Patients Because of Fear of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

According to emergency room doctors, the fear of ER medical malpractice is what prompts some of them to overtest and overtreat patients. As a result, CT scans, blood tests, and prescription drugs may be ordered even though a patient actually doesn’t need them. Unfortunately, health complications can arise as a result of medical overtreatment.

Because of the fast-paced nature of Massachusetts emergency rooms, doctors don’t have the luxury of sitting down and extensively interviewing each patient. By ordering additional tests or providing more care than what a patient’s initial symptoms may indicate, many ER physicians are covering their bases. They also may feel pressure from patients who come into the ER demanding that they get an X-ray or a CT scan with results that can actually be verified instead of just a visual exam by a doctor.

However, what many patients don’t realize is that overtesting and overtreatment not only results in more expensive medical bills, but they also can increase health risks. For example, taking unnecessary prescription drugs can up the chances of complications. A CT scan not only only stresses out the body, but it also can infuse it with three years worth of radiation. The ER physician that ordered the unnecessary test or provided excessive medical care may later end up the defendant of a Boston medical malpractice lawsuit.

Emergency Room Facts (from AP):
• More than 116 million ER visits take place in the US every year.
• Chest pain and abdominal pain are two of the most common reasons why adults go to ERs.
• In nearly 50% of ER visits in 2006, ER doctors ordered CT scans, X-rays, and other imaging tests.
• 75% of ER patients were given medication, including antibiotics.
• 1/3rd of ER patients were given blood tests.
• From 2006 – 2008 more than 600 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed against ER doctors-that’s approximately 3% of their patients.

The Associated Press, which recently conducted an extensive review of medical overtreatment, reports that excessive medical care is an issue of concern not just in the ER arena, but also in other medical fields. Back pain, which is considered the leading overtreated condition, often results in repeated MRI scans and unnecessary spinal surgeries. Tens of millions of antibiotics are prescribed for colds and other viruses that medication can’t cure. Thousands of patients that have had stents inserted in them for blocked heart arteries could have been treated with medication instead.
ER doctors: Lawsuit fears lead to overtesting, AP/Google, June 21, 2010

Medical Overtreatment May Be Making Us Sicker, CBS News, June 7, 2010
Related Web Resources:
Malpractice and the emergency room, Wrong Diagnosis
Hospitals and Medical Centers, Search Boston
Our Boston, Massachusetts medical malpractice attorneys work with injured patients and their families. Many of our clients are located in Suffolk County, Plymouth County, Middlesex County, and Norfolk County. We offer suburban and home appointments for injured clients.