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Doctors who Run more Tests are Sued Less Often, Study Reports

Update Date: Nov 05, 2015 12:56 PM EST

Practicing "defensive medicine" by ordering more tests can lower a doctor's risk of being sued for malpractice, a new study reported.

For this study, the research team examined data on roughly 19 million hospital admissions in Florida from 2000 to 2009. They also looked at the number of malpractice claims filed against at least 24,000 doctors from seven specialties. The researchers wanted to see if defensive medicine, which is the practice of ordering tests to reduce risk of malpractice rather than to provide better care/treatment, lowered risk of being sued.

In terms of numbers, more than 4,300 malpractice claims were filed, with an overall rate of 2.8 percent per doctor per year.

The researchers found that for all seven specialties, risk of malpractice fell if average spending increased. The team accounted for demographic factors as well as the number of diseases that each patient had.

For example, for internal medicine, risk of malpractice ranged from 1.5 percent to 0.3 percent depending on the amount of money that the hospital spent per admission. The 1.5 percent risk was associated with spending $19.725 per admission. The risk fell to 0.3 percent when spending increased to $39,379. For general surgeons, those who billed the least had a 2.3 percent rate of malpractice claims. Those who billed the most, however, had a 0.4 percent rate.

"Our findings suggest that health care reform efforts designed to get physicians to reduce utilization may be met with sluggish opposition if the unintended effect of reduced utilization is increased malpractice risk for the physician," Dr. Anupam B. Jena, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study said to the New York Times.

"The study shows that we need to better understand defensive medicine and how this type of practice impacts both patients and physicians," Tara Bishop and Michael Pesko, of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, noted reported by HealthDay via

Bishop and Pesko penned an accompanying editorial.

The study was published in the journal, BMJ.

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