Physicians wouldn’t order fewer tests under malpractice reform, study finds

One of the main arguments made by proponents of malpractice reform is that physicians would order fewer medical tests if patients could receive only a limited amount of money in a potential lawsuit. But that assumption may not be true, according to a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs. In that study, researchers from the University of Iowa found that not only does reducing malpractice costs not make physicians less concerned about being sued, it also doesn’t necessarily result in them ordering fewer tests.

The study evaluated physicians’ perceptions about malpractice claims in states where more objective indicators of malpractice risk, such as malpractice premiums, varied considerably. It found high levels of malpractice concern among both generalists and specialists in states where objective measures of malpractice risk were low. The study also found relatively modest differences in physicians’ concerns across states with and without common tort reforms. These results suggest that many policies aimed at controlling malpractice costs may have a limited effect on physicians’ malpractice concerns.

Proponents of malpractice reform, including lawmakers, assume that physicians order unnecessary tests because they fear being sued, and this so-called “defensive medicine” is one of the main factors driving up health care spending.

However, opponents of malpractice reform argue that although some physicians request unneeded tests to avoid potential lawsuits, in many cases, physicians order tests because they’re trying to do a thorough job with patients, while others order tests to exploit the “fee-for-service” system, which allows physicians to bill more when they perform more services or provide more care.

Source: Des Moines Register editorial

You can read the abstract of the University of Iowa study here.

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