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HLT 205 Week 2 Discussion Question One

HLT 205 Week 2 Discussion Question One


What is defensive medicine and how does it impact health care cost, quality, and access? How will we see the use of defensive medicine shift as we move forward with the Affordable Care Act? Cite references to support your DQ post.

Defensive medicine takes two main forms: assurance behavior and avoidance behavior. Assurance behavior involves the charging of additional, unnecessary services to a) reduce adverse outcomes, b) deter patients from filing medical malpractice claims, or c) preempt any future legal action by documenting that the practitioner is practicing according to the standard of care. Avoidance behavior occurs when providers refuse to participate in high risk procedures or circumstances.[1]

HLT 205 Week 2 Discussion Question One

In 2004, the case of Dr. Daniel Merenstein triggered an intensive debate in scientific journals and media on defensive medicine (e.g.,[2][3]) Following the guidelines of several well-respected national organizations, Merenstein had explained the pros and cons of

HLT 205 Week 2 Discussion Question One

HLT 205 Week 2 Discussion Question One

prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing to a patient, rather than simply ordering the test. He then documented the shared decision not to order the test. Later, the patient was diagnosed with incurable advanced prostate cancer, and Merenstein and his residency were sued for not ordering the test. Although Merenstein was acquitted, his residency was found liable for $1 million.[4] Ever since this ordeal, he regards his patients as potential plaintiffs: ‘I order more tests now, am more nervous around patients: I am no longer the doctor I should be’.[5]

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Rates of Caesarean section have been found to increase by an average of 8% as seen after 2.5 years following a related medical error.[6]

In a study with 824 US surgeons, obstetricians, and other specialists at high risk of litigation, 93% reported practicing defensive medicine, such as ordering unnecessary CT scans, biopsies, and MRIs, and prescribing more antibiotics than medically indicated.[1] In Switzerland, where litigation is less common, 41% of general practitioners and 43% of internists, reported that they sometimes or often recommend PSA tests for legal reasons.[7]

The practice of defensive medicine also expresses itself in discrepancies between what treatments doctors recommend to patients, and what they recommend to their own families. In Switzerland, for instance, the rate of hysterectomy in the general population is 16%, whereas among female doctors and female partners of doctors it is only 10%.[8]

Defensive medical decision making has spread to many areas of clinical medicine and is seen as a major factor in the increase in health care costs, estimated at tens of billions of dollars annually in the US.[9] An analysis of a random sample of 1452 closed malpractice claims from five U.S. liability insurers showed that the average time between injury and resolution was 5 years.[10] Indemnity costs were $376 million, and defense administration cost $73 million, resulting in total costs of $449 million. The system’s overhead costs were exorbitant: 35% of the indemnity payments went to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, and together with defense costs, the total costs of litigation amounted to 54% of the compensation paid to plaintiffs.

Patient care
Theoretical arguments based on utilitarianism conclude that defensive medicine is, on average, harmful to patients.[11] Malpractice suits are often seen as a mechanism to improve the quality of care, but with custom-based liability, they actually impede the translation of evidence into practice, harming patients and decreasing the quality of care. Tort law in many countries and jurisdictions not only discourages but actively penalizes physicians who practice evidence-based medicine.

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