Doctors who practice “defensive medicine” – prescribing non-essential medical tests and services to avoid being sued later for malpractice – are driving up U.S. health care costs by billions of dollars a year, a new survey of orthopedic surgeons has found.
The survey, presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' annual meeting, found most admitted to practicing some form of defensive medicine and roughly 30 percent of tests and referrals ordered were medically unnecessary.
Total annual cost: $2 billion.
The poll was based on responses from 1,241 orthopedic surgeons from across the country, said Dr. A. Alex Jahangir, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
“Defensive medicine is defined as medical practices that may exonerate physicians from liability without significant benefit to patients,” researchers said.
“Of the 1,214 respondents, 1,165 (96 percent) reported having practiced defensive medicine by ordering imaging, laboratory tests, specialist referrals or hospital admissions mainly to avoid possible malpractice liability.”