The results of an online survey of the opinions of 1,548 physicians throughout the United States that was conducted between August 31, 2012 and October 31, 2012 regarding medical malpractice tort reform measures that was published on December 4, 2012 found that 75% of the respondents claimed that they practice “defensive medicine.” Of those physicians who indicated that they practice defensive medicine, 78% stated that they do so in an effort to avoid being named as a medical malpractice defendant in a lawsuit and 61% believe that defensive medicine has become the standard of care.
Why Practice Defensive Medicine?
Forty-one percent of the physicians surveyed who practice defensive medicine had been named as a medical malpractice defendant in a lawsuit in the past and therefore now practice defensive medicine to avoid being named as a medical malpractice defendant in the future. Fifty-two percent said that they practice defensive medicine in order to make sure that they do not make a mistake and 48% in order to protect their reputations. Fifty-nine percent said that they practice defensive medicine because their patients and the patients’ families demand that they do everything humanly possible to treat their patients’ conditions.
What Effect Have Medical Malpractice Tort Reforms Had On The Practice Of Defensive Medicine?
While 63% of the physicians surveyed stated that caps on noneconomic damages would help to reduce the practice of defensive medicine, only 26% of those physicians ranked caps on noneconomic damages as being the most effective in reducing the incidence of defensive medicine. Of those physicians practicing in states that have caps on noneconomic damages, 73% stated that the caps on noneconomic damages had no effect on their use of defensive medicine.
In those states that have enacted requirements for pre-trial screening panels in medical malpractice cases, 70% of the surveyed physicians felt that the requirement for pre-trial screening panels had not changed their practice of defensive medicine.
In those states that require that a certificate of merit be filed in medical malpractice cases, 83% responded that the requirement for certificates of merit had not changed their practice of defensive medicine.
In those states that have enacted limits on the amount of attorney’s fees that can be charged in medical malpractice cases, 86% of the physicians in those states believe that attorney fee limits have not changed the practice of defensive medicine in their states.
In those states that have enacted joint and several liability reforms in medical malpractice cases, 81% stated that those reforms did not affect the practice of defensive medicine in those states.
In those states that have very restrictive statutes of limitations for medical malpractice claims, 86% of the respondents believe that those restrictions have not affected the practice of defensive medicine in those highly restrictive states.
Seventy-seven percent of the respondents to the survey were male and 62% were between the ages of 45 and 64.
While one of the mantras of medical malpractice tort reformers is that the threat of medical malpractice claims causes physicians to order unnecessary tests or provide unnecessary services that they would not otherwise order or provide (that is, the fear of being sued for medical malpractice causes physicians to practice “defensive medicine”), it appears that results from this limited survey would indicate that the medical malpractice tort reforms being championed in many states would have very little effect in reducing the practice of defensive medicine.
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