Letter to the Editor: ‘Defensive medicine’ stats questioned

Wisconsin State Journal
June 28, 2010

by Paul Gagliardi

The idea that the threat of lawsuits makes doctors order unnecessary tests to protect themselves, featured in a June 21 Associated Press article, is a phenomenon called “defensive medicine.” Studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office cast doubt on the prevalence of this phenomenon.

Doctors are well protected in Wisconsin. They are never personally liable to pay a claim because they have unlimited protection with the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund. The risk of a lawsuit is small here: only 137 medical malpractice cases were filed in circuit courts in 2009.

The real problem is that up to 98,000 people die each year due to medical errors, according to the Institute of Medicine. Thousands more are sickened and severely injured. This adds billions to the cost of health care.

For over 10 years the Institute of Medicine has worked to get hospitals to adopt safer practices. But medical errors are not decreasing. More action is needed to keep patients safe.

Before blaming lawsuits for unnecessary tests, make sure that doctors and hospitals are doing all they can to stop preventable medical injuries.

Paul Gagliardi, President
Wisconsin Association for Justice

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