A study recently released by the New England Journal of Medicine offers groundbreaking new conclusions about the relationship between medical malpractice laws and the cost of health care. For decades the medical industry has placed the burden for high health care costs on the back of the legal community, citing the need to protect themselves from lawyers as the primary source of expensive extra tests and procedures.
Interestingly, it is doctors themselves that are the first to blame lawyers for the high standard of care their patients receive. They claim that without spurious medical malpractice suits they would be able to get away with running far fewer tests and admitting far fewer people to the hospital. The concept is known as “defensive doctoring,” and at this point it is widely ingrained into the consciousness and beliefs of both medical professionals and the general public. The conventional wisdom states that defensive doctoring and the unnecessary tests and hospitalizations it creates are a major factor in the current ruinously high cost of health care. However, one new study is ready to challenge that idea.
The study in question looked at 3.8 million Medicare records in three states that have recently placed sharp limits on medical malpractice claims. They found that reducing doctor’s exposure to being sued had no discernable effect on the number of CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic tests. Nor was there any decrease in the rate of hospitalizations. The high rate of testing and level of hospitalization continued unabated even though these states had made it almost impossible for doctors to be sued. As a result, the new laws designed to drastically reduce medical malpractice suits have not resulted in hoped-for reductions to the cost of health care. Doctors got exactly the defenses and protections they wanted, and failed to deliver the promised improvements to the health care industry. Dr. Waxman, the chief author of the study, concludes “If your goal is cost savings, if you believe there is a lot of pure waste going on, then malpractice reform is a blind alley.”
Furthermore, the new laws in these states prevent people from making recoveries on legitimate medical malpractice claims. Thus, patients are not only not benefitting from the new system, but actively being hurt by it as well.
Someone has to take the fall for the high cost of health care, and as Waxman says, “It’s easy to blame something that’s out of your control and the legal system is a convenient scapegoat.” It turns out the standard of care doctors provide is not, as they have long claimed, dependent upon their fear of being sued. Maybe they just care about their patients.
About The Author: Malcolm “Mic” McConnell is a personal injury lawyer who helps injured persons get the fair compensation they deserve. He is the lead Medical Malpractice attorney at the Allen Law Firm and has nearly 30 years of experience handling cases in a variety of medical specialties. Mic was named the Best Lawyers’ 2013 Medical Malpractice Law – Plantiffs “Lawyer of the Year.”
 Click here for the study itself: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1313308