Defensive Medicine: Is Tort Law in Need of Reform? – Part I

Negligence is all around us: on other people’s property, on the roadways and yes, even in our hospitals. It’s because of this risk and the fact that negligence often leads to serious or even fatal injuries that we have tort laws.

Torts, such as those concerning medical malpractice, give victims and their families the ability to seek compensation after an accident. And while this can never undo what has happened, civil litigation at the very least can give victims and their families the sense of justice they deserve.

But for the last few years, politicians across the nation, including some here in Connecticut, have been focused on changing existing tort laws. The reason given is that existing tort laws put too much pressure on medical professionals to get it right the first time or risk a lawsuit. It’s because of this fear, some say, that doctors are turning to defensive medicine practices, which is costing the nation in the end.

But what is defensive medicine? It’s a term used to describe any treatments or diagnostic tests that are administered to the patient unnecessarily. The main function of performing these tests and treatments is to avoid a delayed or missed diagnosis, thus precluding a medical malpractice lawsuit.

But what about the argument that defensive medicine is costing the nation? According to a new study, the amount of money defensive medicine is supposedly costing the nation may not be as much as we think. Of the $2.7 trillion that is spent on health care in the United States, it’s believed that defensive medicine only accounts for about 3 percent of that.

In some cases, the study found, doctors who used defensive medicine actually cost the nation less than those who did not.

So if defensive medicine isn’t the real culprit then why are so many politicians pushing for tort reform? This is a question we hope to answer in next week’s blog post when we look at the tort reform movement and what could happen if politicians get their way.

Sources: Medscape, “Defensive Medicine Less Costly Than Suspected,” Marcia Frellick, Sept 18, 2014

The Los Angeles Times, “New study shows that the savings from ‘tort reform’ are mythical,” Michael Hiltzik, Sept. 20, 2014