Perception of Malpractice Risk is Contagious Among Colleagues

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dan LyPh.D. Program in Health PolicyHarvard

Dan Ly

Dan Ly, MD, MPP
Ph.D. Program in Health Policy
Harvard

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: There is some mixed evidence regarding whether state level tort reform reduces defensive medicine, or the practicing of medicine in such a way to reduce medical liability. This includes “positive” defensive medicine, or performing certain tests and procedures to reduce such liability. Other research finds that the perception of malpractice risk drives such defensive medicine, including the use of diagnostic imaging, such as CT scans and MRIs.

I was interested in exploring what influenced the perception of this risk, hypothesizing that, for a physician, a report of an injury against one’s colleague might increase the perception of this risk and lead to an increase the use of diagnostic imaging.

Continue reading

Defensive Medicine is Real and Raises Health Care Costs

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Jonathan Gruber PhD
Department of Economics, E52-434
MIT
Cambridge, MA 02139

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: There is a large literature trying to estimate the extent of ‘defensive  medicine’ by looking at what happens when it gets harder to sue and/or  you can win less money. But there have been no studies of what happens if you just get rid of the right to sue.  That’s what we have with active duty patients treated on a military base.

The main finding is that when patients can’t sue they are treated about  5% less intensively.  Much of the effect appears to arise from fewer diagnostic tests.

Continue reading

Study Examines Malpractice Risk Of Mohs Surgery For Skin Cancer

Omar A. Ibrahimi, M.D., Ph.D Connecticut Skin Institute Founding Medical Director Stamford, CT 06905MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Omar A. Ibrahimi, M.D., Ph.D

Connecticut Skin Institute
Founding Medical Director
Stamford, CT 06905
www.ctskindoc.com

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Ibrahimi: The delivery of healthcare in a efficient and cost effective fashion is one of the largest themes in medicine today. Malpractice lawsuits have steadily increased with the cost of healthcare delivery. Mohs surgery involves the surgical removal, the tissue analysis and the reconstruction of a skin cancer all in a single visit that bundles multiple procedures in a cost effective manner that is proposed to be the gold standard for treating certain skin cancers.

Information regarding malpractice involving Mohs surgery is lacking. The only previous study that has been done was a survey of Mohs surgeons looking at how many had been involved in lawsuits and the reasons for being involved. Our study examined a legal database to identify all the lawsuits involving Mohs surgery and skin cancer. We were surprised to find that the majority of lawsuits involved non-Mohs surgeons as the primary defendant, mostly due to a delay of or failure in diagnosis, cosmetic outcome issues, lack of informed consent, and a delay of or failure in referral to a Mohs surgeon.
Continue reading

Neurosurgery: Fear of Litigation Drives Defensive Medical Practice

Timothy R. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. Pituitary/Neuroendoscopy Fellow Department of Neurosurgery Brigham & Womens Hospital Harvard University Boston, MA 02115MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Timothy R. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H
.
Pituitary/Neuroendoscopy Fellow
Department of Neurosurgery
Brigham & Womens Hospital
Harvard University Boston, MA 0211

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Smith: Defensive medicine is the practice of prescribing unnecessary medical treatment for fear of being sued – it is widely practiced in the United States and contributes to our rising healthcare costs. In high-risk specialties such as neurosurgery, the fear of litigation leads to defensive practices that actually impact clinical decisions. A 2009 American College of Emergency Physicians report created malpractice risk profiles for each state based on its legal atmosphere, tort reform, and insurance availability. Based on these profiles, each state was ranked from 1 to 50 and sorted into separate categories, ranging from A, for the best liability environment, to F, for the worst. We sent a 51-question, anonymous online survey, which covered topics ranging from patient characteristics to surgeon liability profiles, to board-certified US neurosurgeons in the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The purpose was to determine how neurosurgeons’ perceptions of their medico-legal environments correlated with these established state risk profiles, as well as whether each state’s liability risk environment was a predictor of defensive medical practices.

We found that though the average malpractice insurance premium was $103,000 per year, neurosurgeons from high-risk states paid significantly more ($128,000) than those from low-risk states did ($75,000). Even with these amounts, almost 70% of respondents felt that their insurance coverage was inadequate, and 90% felt that the insurance premium was a financial burden. Neurosurgeons from high-risk states were also twice as likely to have been sued as those from low-risk states were. More than 80% of respondents ordered additional imaging for defensive medical purposes, and more than 75% said they ordered additional laboratory tests and made unnecessary referrals for defensive purposes; this behavior was more prevalent in high-risk states. After controlling for important confounders, we found that for every letter-grade change from “A” to “F”, neurosurgeons are 1.5 times more likely to engage in defensive behaviors. For example, moving from a “D” state to an “A” state represents 4.5 fold difference in defensive behaviors.

Continue reading

Malpractice Reform Did Not Change ER Doctor Habits or ER Costs

Daniel A. Waxman, MD, PhD Department of Emergency Medicine David Geffen School of Medicine University of California, Los Angeles RAND Corporation Santa Monica, CaliforniaMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Daniel A. Waxman, MD, PhD
Department of Emergency Medicine
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California, Los Angeles
RAND Corporation Santa Monica, California

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Waxman: About 10 years ago, three states (Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina) passed laws which made it much harder for doctors to be sued for malpractice related to emergency room care.   The goal of our research was to determine whether the lower risk of being sued translated into less costly care by emergency physicians.  To figure this out, we looked at the billing records of nearly 4 million Medicare patients and compared care before and after the laws took effect, and between states that passed reform and neighboring states that didn’t change their laws.   We found that these substantial legal protections didn’t cause ER doctors to admit fewer patients to the hospital, to order fewer CT or MRI scans, or to spend less for the overall ER visit.
Continue reading

Does Malpractice Fear Drive Overuse of Esophageal Cancer Screening?

Megan A. Adams, MD Gastroenterology Fellow University of MichiganMedicalResearch.com Interview with
Megan A. Adams, MD
Gastroenterology Fellow
University of Michigan

 

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Adams: Surveys of doctors indicate that their fear of a malpractice lawsuit for missing a diagnosis of esophageal cancer might drive the overuse of tests called upper endoscopies in patients who are at low risk for the cancer. To examine whether this perception of medical liability risk accurately reflects the real likelihood of a malpractice claim, we looked at a national database of malpractice claims, and compared the rate of claims for delay in diagnosis of esophageal cancer in patients without alarm symptoms (weight loss, dysphagia, iron deficiency anemia), with the rate of claims alleging performance of an upper endoscopy without a good reason for performing the procedure.

The database contained 278,220 claims filed against physicians in 1985-2012. The incidence of reported medical liability claims for failure to screen for esophageal cancer in patients without alarm features was quite low (19 claims in 11 years, 4 paid). In contrast, there were 17 claims in 28 years for complications of upper endoscopies with questionable indication (8 paid).

Continue reading