As far as wasteful spending in the healthcare system, defensive medicine accounts for a staggering sum at an estimated $210 billion per year. To make matters worse, according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, over 90% of participating physicians admitted to practicing defensive medicine. Why would such a large fraction of physicians engage in something which has been deemed “wasteful?”
First of all, what is defensive medicine? Imagine you’re a physician attending to a patient who presents with a headache. Rather than prescribing Tylenol and bed rest, you order expensive (and potentially unnecessary) imaging tests, blood panels, etc. to cover all the bases. Why? You’re worried that as this patient’s doctor, you risk a lawsuit in the event that you fail to properly diagnose his or her problem.
As a future physician, I can vaguely see the pros and cons of this practice. Doctors are too worried about getting sued, so they order all sorts of tests to make the diagnosis as accurate as possible at the expense of the patient; however, patients are concerned with saving money.
So I ask my readership – how do we go about resolving the aforementioned conflict of interest?