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Does Fear of Lawsuits Result in Extra Medical Tests?

Does Fear of Lawsuits Result in Extra Medical Tests?

According to a Time article from 2015, most ER doctors order more tests than their patients need. A staggering 85% admitted that they typically order more tests than are required for a proper diagnosis, and 97% admitted to ordering at least one unnecessary imaging test.

This additional testing may be caused by the doctors’ fear of lawsuits.

Does Anyone Benefit from a Medically Unnecessary Test?

Many people believe that doctors may financially benefit from ordering an unnecessary test if they have arranged some sort of deal with another party. For example, they may receive a kickback for every test they order from a certain laboratory.

But while fraud can happen in every profession, such kickbacks or commissions are illegal. The most likely explanation is fear of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Nearly every doctor admits that they feel enormous pressure due to the litigiousness of the U.S. population. Often, it is easier to order an unnecessary test than to try to explain to a patient — or their lawyer — why the test was unneeded.

With malpractice insurance costing an average of $7500 per year — and costing upwards of $50,000 annually for certain specializations — doctors are rightfully concerned about anything that might increase those costs.

An extra test or two can prevent a lawsuit, which might increase malpractice insurance costs, even if the doctor did no wrong. Many physicians feel that their patients benefit from additional tests anyway, especially if the tests can prevent a doctor from having to waste time due to a lawsuit.

How Much Do Unnecessary Tests Cost?

How much unnecessary tests cost annually isn’t well known, despite many attempts to study it. Most estimates put the value at billions per year. But those estimates fluctuate significantly between a single-digit percentage of all medical costs to close to 25% of all costs.

Part of the reason that it is so difficult to determine how much unnecessary tests are increasing the cost of medical services is that there are very few places in the world where a patient can’t sue a doctor for medical malpractice. This means it is challenging to find a control group for any study.

The closest any study has come to establishing a control group is one that used evidence from military health care. The Military Health System doesn’t allow active-duty patients to sue for harm from negligent care. This study compared the costs for that system to traditional costs.

The results showed that spending on patients was about 5% less in the control group than in traditional hospitals. And despite the decrease in spending, patients didn’t suffer a meaningful negative effect.

This was just a single study, though, and it doesn’t fully answer the question. Even without the fear of being sued by patients, doctors in this system might order additional tests to avoid litigation from the government or to protect their jobs. It still suggests that a fear of lawsuits is increasing the cost to the average consumer of medical services.

How Can You Avoid Unnecessary Costs?

The best way to avoid being subjected to unnecessary tests is to create a close relationship with your doctor. Generally, physicians are less likely to order unnecessary tests when they have a relationship of trust with their patients.

This is why you are most likely to receive unnecessary tests when you visit an emergency room or otherwise deal with a new doctor. In this situation, ask the doctor about every test and what it will do. If they can’t explain why it is necessary, you can request that the test be skipped.

It is important to keep in mind that patients will rarely suffer from unnecessary tests. A few may be uncomfortable or time-consuming, but tests are usually not harmful. Thus, physicians usually feel comfortable ordering extra tests, knowing that the consequences of unneeded tests are minimal.

Financially, you are typically responsible for any test your doctor orders. However, if a test is unnecessary and the doctor knew it, you might have a legal claim against the physician. A lawyer can help you determine whether you are liable for the costs of any tests.

And if you have any reason to believe that a doctor misled you to get you to agree to a test, consult with a lawyer immediately.

Consult with a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Even by the most conservative estimates, extra testing is costing patients billions per year. If you think a doctor is costing you money by ordering unnecessary tests, contact Silberstein, Awad & Miklos today to get a free case review from an experienced lawyer.