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Study suggests that defensive medicine still persists

We have written before on the concept of defensive medicine and the monetary effect that it has on health care costs. Essentially, many doctors have become used to performing unnecessary tests to rule out potential conditions out of fear of being sued for malpractice down the road. This practice has been chronicled as one of the reasons for the dramatic and continuing increase in care costs.

However, in a number of states where medical malpractice reform has changed the standard in which patients must prove harm, it appears that doctors are still hedging their bets and relying on additional tests even when they are not required. 

According to a study conducted by research non-profit RAND Corporation, defensive medicine is still the norm despite changes in the law that basically grant immunity for some doctors; particularly emergency room physicians. The study compared data from Medicare patients from Georgia, Texas and South Carolina (three states that enacted malpractice reforms) and compared them to states that did not pass such reforms regarding quality of care (i.e. whether a physician ordered a CT scan or MRI, hospital readmissions, and total costs of hospital visits).

Over the course of 14 years, researchers found that medical malpractice reforms did not reduce the number of CT scans or hospital admissions; two telltale signs of defensive medicine. It may be that such a practice has become such an ingrained part of the culture of medicine, or that the costs generated by this style of medicine may be too much to overcome.

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