Most Massachusetts Physicians Practice Defensive Medicine

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Eighty-three percent of physicians surveyed in Massachusetts say they practice so-called "defensive medicine" because they are concerned they might be sued by patients, a trend that adds at least $1.4 billion annually to state health care costs, according to a report by the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Boston Herald reports.

Last year, the society surveyed 900 physicians about their use of X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, laboratory testing, specialty referrals, consultations and hospital admissions. The report found that physicians who practiced defensive medicine said they ordered 18% to 28% of the tests, procedures, referrals and consultations to protect themselves if they were sued (McConville, Boston Herald, 11/18). The survey also found that 13% of hospitalizations were ordered to avoid lawsuits.


In addition, 28% of physicians surveyed said that liability concerns affected the care they provided "a lot," and 38% said that they reduced the number of high-risk services they performed (Lazar, Boston Globe, 11/18). The survey found that reducing defensive medicine could significantly reduce costs and improve patient care.

The medical society has proposed overhauling the state's tort system. Under the society's proposal, physicians who make mistakes would tell patients "everything [they] know about what happened, how it happened and how it will impact them," according to Alan Woodward, vice chair of the society's Committee on Professional Liability. He said physicians would apologize and patients would be compensated if necessary, and the courts would be used only "as a last resort" (Boston Herald, 11/18).

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