Physicians' Views on Defensive Medicine

A National Survey

Year in Research Nominee for 2010

Defensive medicine in the form of unnecessary tests and procedures by physicians costs an estimated $60 billion annually. To determine to what extent physicians believe they practice defensive medicine in order to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits, researchers conducted a random national survey. They asked physicians in four groups (primary care, medical specialists, surgical specialists and other specialists) to rate on a 5-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree the following two statements:

  1. Doctors order more tests and procedures than patients need to protect themselves against malpractice suits.
  2. Unnecessary use of diagnostic tests will not decrease without protections for physicians against unwarranted malpractice suits.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (91%) reported believing that physicians order more diagnostic tests and procedures than are needed in order to protect themselves from malpractice suits. These views were consistent across a range of physician characteristics, most notably across specialty groups. Physicians expressed that they want reforms instituted to protect them from medical liability, as long as they practice within the standard of care.

The authors suggest that as part of health reform policy-makers consider reforms to curb defensive medical practice, thus reducing health care spending and promoting efficient, high quality health care.