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Cook County, Illinois

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Jordan Margolis
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Unraveling the Myth of “Defensive Medicine”

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For years, Republican politicians, physicians, personal injury defense attorneys, and other parties with a vested interest in tort reform have been lobbying for government intervention in the courtroom so as to curb "frivolous lawsuits" and for caps on medical malpractice awards. In today's politically charged climate, the debate on health care reform rages on. And tort reform proponents have thrown their hats into the ring by spinning more stories to the impressionable public on the danger of "defensive medicine".

What is defensive medicine?

The Record, West Virginia's Legal Journal, recently ran an article by personal injury attorney Ben Glass which describes this artificial term as doctors' practice of routinely ordering "extra, non-necessary tests, not because it is reasonable to do so but to prevent the health care provider from being sued later for 'not performing every test'."

All of these extra tests," Glass further explains the argument, create "a huge 'hidden cost' [because they are] being ordered (and paid for by someone, usually an insurance company.) In short, tort reform proponents suggest that our country could "lower the cost of medicine… if doctors weren't so afraid and thus, didn't have to order all of these unnecessary tests.

The president of Minnesota's Medical Association, Patricia Lindholm, is a family physician. She told Minnesota Public Radio that "many of us will admit that we sometimes practice defensively, and possibly order more tests than we think are absolutely necessary, because the patient expects the test. Or we're worried that if we don't do it, that something bad will happen, not necessarily based on best judgment."

Physicians have reported to medical surveys, lobbyists, and researchers that they regularly engage in the practice of defensive medicine. MedPage Today recently ran an article about the results of one of the "largest and most comprehensive" surveys to date of U.S. orthopedic surgeons' approach to practicing medicine. The survey, "which had responses from 1,241 orthopedic surgeons from across the country", showed that "roughly 30% of tests and referrals they ordered were medically unnecessary, with an estimated annual cost exceeding $2 billion."

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  1. john_grady@yahoo.com says:
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    Defensive medicine has been the standard of care for decades. Moreover ” frivolous” is difficult to prove as the author surely knows. $60B per year, the best estimate thus far, is a large figure that needs to be addressed. To suggest that we should ” kill the messenger” is an irresponsible attempt to distract from the real issue.