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Can defensive medicine lead to medical malpractice?

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(© Gorodenkoff – stock.adobe.com)

Defensive medicine has been around since the mid-20th century. However, there has been a resurgence in recent years, and it is triggering a concurrent wave of medical malpractice lawsuits. When defensive medicine causes more harm to patients than good, it defeats its purpose. Injured victims may file a medical malpractice lawsuit for compensation.

What is defensive medicine?

Defensive medicine is the act of ordering an abundance of diagnostic tests and treatments. As with any other medical action, if it is not executed correctly it can be harmful. Though most physicians who engage in the practice have the best intentions, defensive medicine can be more of a hindrance than a help.

A very brief history of defensive medicine

In the 1960s, more and more people started suing doctors for misdiagnoses. By the 1970s, the number of medical liability lawsuits had skyrocketed. According to some estimates, medical malpractice claims increased 300 percent between 1965 and 1970.

By 1969, the situation had grown so dire that the National Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization of the US Senate released a 1,060-page report detailing the spike in malpractice lawsuits, calling it “a national crisis.”

Ultimately, politicians chose not to legislate. Resultantly, approximately 93 percent of doctors in the United States practice defensive medicine today.

Examples of defensive medicine

Defensive medicine can manifest in myriad ways and is largely dependent on the patient’s specific condition and situation. However, there are some common defensive medicine tactics, including:

  • Ordering unnecessary CT scans
  • Steering women toward Cesarean sections instead of natural childbirth
  • Ordering superfluous biopsies
  • Authorizing needless MRIs

The problem with defensive medicine

Newton’s Third Law states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” To wit, an increasing number of medical malpractice lawsuits are born of defensive medicine tactics. What began as a way to circumvent medical malpractice lawsuits has become a leading source for them.

Researchers have spent decades analyzing defensive medicine strategies, and they have found that in some cases it can harm patients more than it helps. Not only does it increase healthcare costs across the board, but the added stress and exposure typically flies in the face of the Hippocratic oath. The extraneous tests and treatments trigger additional injuries and ailments in the worst cases.

If you’re contemplating moving forward with a defensive medicine claim in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens, it’s wise to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer in NYC. They can assess the situation, determine if you have a viable case, and outline the available options.

How can defensive medicine trigger a medical malpractice lawsuit?

How can a diagnostic test lead to a liability lawsuit? Malpractice lawsuits of commission involve a doctor doing something wrong, like leaving materials inside a body after a surgery, prescribing the wrong medicine, or knowingly using defective medical equipment.

Malpractice lawsuits of omission, however, involve censuring medical professionals for not doing something. Of these claims, failing to diagnose an illness is the most common cause of action. Therefore, to cover all possible bases, many doctors will order tons of tests – some of which they know are unnecessary.

You may be thinking: Is covering one’s bases always a bad thing? Of course, it’s not. Thoroughness is often a virtue and a good quality in a doctor. However, defensive medicine becomes a problem when physicians prioritize their interests ahead of a patient’s.

For example, imagine if a doctor prescribed more antibiotics than necessary and the extra medications triggered additional problems for the patient. Excessive exposure to radiology is another common problem.

Can I sue for medical malpractice over defensive medicine?

Do you believe that a doctor, surgeon, or nurse knowingly ordered tests or prescribed unnecessary treatments that negatively impacted your life? You have a right to competent care, and defensive medicine can be more dangerous at times. You owe it to yourself to explore the situation. Moreover, if a medical professional has cavalierly or recklessly put a patient in harm’s way, it’s important to stop them.


augusta free press
augusta free press