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Giving Physicians Immunity From Malpractice Claims Not A Solution

Update Date: Oct 16, 2014 10:34 AM EDT

Changing laws to make it more difficult to sue physicians for medical malpractice may not reduce the amount of "defensive medicine" practiced by physicians, suggests a new study. 

Researchers studied the behavior of emergency physicians in three states and found that strong new legal protections did not translate into less-expensive care. 

"Our findings suggest that malpractice reform may have less effect on costs than has been projected by conventional wisdom," said Dr. Daniel A. Waxman, the study's lead author and a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, in the press release. "Physicians say they order unnecessary tests strictly out of fear of being sued, but our results suggest the story is more complicated."

According to reports, defensive medicine accounts for a substantial part of the hundreds of billions of dollars unnecessary health care spending every year. Experts have advocated malpractice reform as key to reining in health care costs. However, the study authors disagree. 

"These malpractice reforms have been said to provide virtual immunity against lawsuits," said Waxman, who also is an emergency medicine physician at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"This study suggests that even when the risk of being sued for malpractice decreases, the path of least resistance still may favor resource-intensive care, at least in hospital emergency departments."

The findings of the study are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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