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Doctors Face Lower Number Of Malpractice Lawsuits When They Order More Tests

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Ordering for more lab tests and diagnostic exams may be good for protecting a doctor's medical license.

Based on findings in a study published in the British Medical Journal, providing for more care than what is needed such as prescribing additional tests or medication not primarily indicated for the treatment of a certain disease, could lower a doctor's risk of being sued for malpractice.

Although researchers are unable to prove these additional diagnostic and treatment modalities are a result of practicing defensive medicine.

"By no means would I consider it to be conclusive, but it does signal to us that defensive medicine could work in lowering malpractice risk," said lead author Dr. Anupam Jena of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Researchers noted in their study that critics of the U.S. malpractice system believe that the group encourages defensive medicine, or the prescription of modalities beyond what is necessary with the intent to avoid lawsuits, findings showed that doctors in Florida who provided the most expensive care were less likely to be sued.

Researchers added that while defensive medicine is commonly practiced by doctors, no studies until theirs were able to look into whether the said practice does prevent or lower incidence of lawsuits.

To look into this, the research team studied data from nearly 25,000 doctors from hospitals all over Florida to determine whether doctors with seven medical specialties had less chance of facing lawsuits in the year after they started averaging moderate to higher than usual hospital charges.

They found that an internist whose average charges cost about $20,000 had a 1.2 percent chance of being sued the following year, compared to another internist with an average of $39,000 charges, who has a far less 0.3 percent chance.

Obstetricians who also performed more caesarean section deliveries had less risk for malpractice than those who did less.

Researchers were able to surmise from the data that doctors who spent more in a given specialty get sued less than those who did not spend much.

However, researchers are also quick to remind the limitations of their study. The authors' findings were only focused on one state nor did they have enough information on the severity of the disease involved or whether the resulting higher costs was due to practicing defensive medicine.

"From a research direction, we want to better understand why we're finding this link," said Dr. Daniel Waxman, of RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, who was not involved in the study.

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