Doctors Face High Risk of Malpractice Claims

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One of the outcomes of the high risk of malpractice claims is the practice of defensive medicine, or the use of tests and other medical measures as protection against lawsuits. Experts disagree on how rampant defensive medicine is.

"There's always been a concern among doctors, policymakers and researchers about defensive medicine, but the evidence it exists has been quite modest," Jena said.

"I think there's pretty good evidence that doctors will recommend things to patients based largely on legal anxieties rather than solely on what the doctor feels is in the best interest of the patients," said Kapp.

Segal mentioned one doctor who was sued who said he would practice as much defensive medicine as necessary to avoid facing legal action.

"He said he will scan patients until they glow to make sure he doesn't miss anything," Segal said.

Not an Easy Fix, Say Experts

Experts say the malpractice system sorely needs reform to be fair to doctors as well as patients who have been harmed and deserve compensation.

"One thought I have that's been offered up by others is the notion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms," said Jena. "The point is to identify malpractice claims that have merit and distinguish them from those that aren't meritorious, but do it quickly."

"What I would advocate would be a move toward a health court system to take it out of the traditional court system -- almost like a no-fault system," said Segal.

But the American Association for Justice, a group that says it fights for justice for people harmed by negligence or misconduct, believes the traditional court system is the best way for injured patients to get justy compensated.

"A strong civil justice system offers injured patients the ability to hold negligent providers accountable and increases patient safety to help prevent negligence before it occurs," the group's president, Gary M. Paul, said in a statement. "Instead of allowing insurance companies and tort reform groups to perpetuate these myths, we should focus on patient safety as a proven way of reducing claims and saving lives."

Segal, however, believes fixing the malpractice system can also help reign in health care costs.

"The real challenge is trying to wrap our heads around defensive medicine," he said. "If we spend less on that, a lot of money could be left over for other things."

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