Defensive medicine refers to any medical practice that a doctor or healthcare professional undertakes not to serve the best interests of the patient, but to avoid or minimize the chance of a malpractice lawsuit. Defensive medicine results in billions of wasted dollars every year, a price that eventually trickles down to the patient.
Examples of Defensive Medicine
When a healthcare professional bases a decision not on what is best for the patient, but on what will give him or her the least exposure to liability, the professional is practicing defensive medicine.
Some examples of defensive medicine include:
- Ordering unnecessary tests.
- Prescribing medication at higher doses or for longer periods than necessary.
- Overtreating patients with antibiotics.
- Avoiding high-risk patients.
- Performing unnecessary procedures.
A disconcerting aspect of defensive medicine is that most patients have no idea when it is being practiced on them.
The Cost of Defensive Medicine
According to a 2014 report in JAMA Internal Medicine, the practice of defensive medicine costs Americans around $46 billion each year. Equally concerning is how pervasive the practice is. The same report found that 28 percent of orders and 13 percent of costs reviewed were at least partially defensive, while nearly three percent were completely defensive.
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