The more tests and treatments U.S. doctors order for patients, the less likely they are to be sued for malpractice, a new study finds.
This link between “defensive medicine” and malpractice risk merits further research, experts say.
Defensive medicine refers to providing care to reduce the threat of malpractice, rather than to improve diagnosis or treatment.
The researchers looked at data from nearly 19 million Florida hospital admissions between 2000 and 2009 and malpractice claims against more than 24,000 doctors in seven specialties.
There were more than 4,300 malpractice claims. The overall rate was 2.8 percent per doctor annually, ranging from less than 2 percent per doctor a year in pediatrics to more than 4 percent per doctor a year in general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology.
Across all seven medical specialties in the study, higher average spending was associated with a lower risk of malpractice claims, the study found.
For example, risk of a malpractice claim against internal medicine specialists ranged from 1.5 percent among those in the bottom fifth of patient spending ($19,725 per hospital admission) to 0.3 percent among those in the top fifth of spending ($39,379 per hospital admission).
The study was published online Nov. 4 in the journal BMJ.
“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, wrote in an accompanying journal editorial.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has tips on choosing a doctor.