Doctors order too many diagnostic tests on patients
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Author:  skyehopper [ Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Doctors order too many diagnostic tests on patients

In this world we live in, malpractice suits are more and more common, so doctors are trying harder than ever not to make mistakes. In pursuit of this goal, they are starting to go a little overboard. Doctors fearful of malpractice suits are ordering more diagnostic tests than most occasions warrant, a new U.S. study says.

Cautious doctors practice defensive medicine

The term doctors use for these extra tests is “defensive medicine” and Michelle Mello, the study’s senior author and a professor of law and public health at the Harvard School of Public Health, said this practice “is one of those things that everyone knows goes on, but doesn’t know how to control.” It drives up healthcare costs, potentially costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

3 main symptoms analyzed

In fact, in an earlier study Mellow found that “medical liability and defensive medicine accounted for approximately $55.6 billion or 2.4 percent of U.S. healthcare spending.” Part of her more recent study focused on patients who visited their doctors for three complaints: headache, back pain, and chest pains. These symptoms were chose, because “each could indicate relatively minor problems, but could also suggest more severe and even life-threatening issues that would be likely to trigger testing in a risk-averse provider.”

Researchers found that when a patient complained of headache, 11 percent of doctors with a high level of concern about malpractice recommended the patient for further testing, compared with 6 percent of doctors with a low level of concern. Even more significant was the difference found in treatment of patients with back pains. Just 18 percent of low level doctors referred their patients for further testing, compared with 30 percent of high level doctors. Chest pains were different—high level doctors had lower rates of ordering stress tests, which researchers hypothesized could be because the doctor referred them to a hospital rather than ordering his or her own tests.

Safe harbor suggestion

To help prevent the costs incurred by these over-cautious doctors, Mello suggested the creation of “safe harbors” which would indicate “the highest standard of care and in principle could not be accused of negligence.” Maura Calsyn, the associate director of health policy at the Center for American Progress, concurred with Mello and added, “We recommend safe harbors because they will improve patient care and go a long way to help the doctor practice better medicine.”

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