Legal Articles

January 12, 2012

Malpractice Fears Not the Cause of Rising Healthcare Costs

According to a report in the journal Health Affairs,

"Concerns about reducing the rate of growth of health expenditures have reignited interest in medical liability reforms and their potential to save money by reducing the practice of defensive medicine."

However, the report concluded that only about 2.4% of total healthcare spending is due to medical liability system costs.

“Defensive medicine” is the practice of ordering medical tests and treatments not primarily for the good of the patient but to protect the doctor from malpractice claims. Defensive medicine is thought to be especially common in high-risk specialties such as emergency medicine and obstetrics.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that:

"42% of the docs in a nationwide survey said the patients in their own practices “were receiving too much medical care”…",0,7603341.story


However, according to a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, only about 7.4% of doctors are sued for malpractice each year, and only 1.6% of these claims lead to a payment. And most doctors carry malpractice insurance to cover such claims.

So what’s causing this over-treatment, if not fear of malpractice?

Over-utilization of medical services, and thus increased health care costs for the country as a whole, can occur for a variety of reasons. When a patient’s expenses are covered by insurance and a doctor is paid on a fee-for-service model, neither of them may consider the actual cost of tests and treatments -- or whether this cost is proportional to the benefit.

Also, when doctors have financial interests in diagnostic and treatment facilities to which they refer patients, they may over-refer patients to boost their own income.

In order to succeed in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that:

  • A health care provider or institution owed a duty to the patient.
  • The provider or institution breached this duty, according to the accepted standards of the relevant medical community.
  • This breach caused the patient to suffer an injury, including death or disability.
  • The patient suffered financial and/or emotional harm.

If you live in Washington State and believe you have a medical malpractice claim, contact the Stephen Haskell Law Offices in Spokane for a free initial consultation.

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