Columbia County News Times: Defensive medicine is a bad dose of fiction
Posted: September 10, 2014 – 12:16am
In the ongoing debate over skyrocketing healthcare costs in Georgia, proponents of medical malpractice reform continue to point to the practice of so-called “defensive medicine” as the culprit behind the increase in costs across the healthcare system (“Georgia can lead in savings with plan to eliminate medical malpractice” – Sept. 3). Doctors, they contend, regularly perform expensive and unnecessary medical tests in order to avoid malpractice suits related to their treatment – or lack thereof.
In and of itself, however, their argument is fundamentally flawed. The fact of the matter is that the practice of so-called defensive medicine is fabricated by deep-pocketed special interests that perpetuate the myth in hopes of financial gain and the advancement of a dangerous legislative agenda. And while defensive medicine is the talking point du jour of those whose sole interest is to shield healthcare providers from accountability, the facts continue to belie their assertions.
Proponents of these radical reforms continue to point to anonymous doctor “surveys” as the basis for their argument, which supposedly confirm that nearly every healthcare provider in our state practices so-called defensive medicine and costs our citizens billions of dollars each year. Observers note, however, that these “surveys” are deceptively masqueraded to carry the weight of a scientifically conducted
Unbiased and credible organizations have taken a markedly different stance on the issue. In fact, according to the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), these “surveys” provide no sufficient evidence that supports the existence of defensive medicine and border on being valueless. The GAO writes, “The overall prevalence and costs of [defensive medicine] have never been reliably measured.”
In addition, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) weighed in on the alleged use of defensive medicine in American hospitals, and found evidence of the practice to be “weak or inconclusive” and “at best ambiguous.” They concluded, “On the basis of existing studies and its own research, CBO believes that savings from reducing defensive medicine would be very small.”
Researchers at Dartmouth College also echo these conclusions, saying, “The fact that we see very little evidence of widespread physician exodus or dramatic increases in the use of defensive medicine…places the more dire predictions of malpractice alarmists in doubt.”
Furthermore, if a healthcare provider were to order and conduct unnecessary tests and procedures on their patients, then they would be illegally committing insurance fraud, Medicaid fraud and Medicare fraud. And, how is it possible that healthcare providers are doing billions of dollars’ worth of unnecessary medical tests and treatments in today’s penny-pinching managed care world where it is difficult for a doctor to get authority to perform even the most medically necessary tests and treatments? This accusation is offensive to the thousands of responsible, hard-working and competent doctors all across Georgia who practice medicine to help their patients – not to illegally bilk insurance companies out of excessive payments.
And though they would like you to believe that nearly one in every four healthcare dollars is spent on so-called defensive medicine, we find it impossible to believe that Georgia doctors are spending 25 percent of each day running
unnecessary – and fraudulent – tests.
The truth of the matter is that doctors call for procedures and order tests to ensure the health and wellbeing of their patients. They also may desire additional confirmation of a diagnosis before ordering a costly, potentially dangerous treatment. Or, perhaps they simply want to satisfy their patients’ desire for more certainty. All of these are legitimate reasons for ordering tests, even if they turn out to be negative. If indeed our state’s healthcare providers are practicing “defensive medicine” at all, it is akin to defensive driving – a good practice done to protect people, act responsibly and save lives.
Would you demand anything less for your family?
Sam G. Nicholson and Harry D. Revell,