Cardiologists admit to practicing defensive medicine

Cardiologists are no exception to the phenomenon of ordering arguably unnecessary tests. In fact, out of 598 cardiologists surveyed about why they might order a medically unnecessary cardiac catheterization, 24 percent revealed that they'd do so out of fear of a malpractice suit if they refused, a study in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, reports this week.

The study, led by Frances Lee Lucas, an epidemiologist with the Maine Medical Center, was careful to make the distinction between "nonmedical" reasons for ordering tests and calling them "unnecessary." The research did not examine whether the cardiac catheterizations benefited the patients, but merely the reasons physicians reported for ordering them. After malpractice, peer pressure was cited the second-most frequently, with fewer than 1 percent of physicians admitting they ordered the potentially hazardous tests for monetary gain.

The findings should be interpreted with caution, said Clyde W. Yancy, MD, president of the American Heart Association, because they were based on responses to proposed medical scenarios by a relatively small number of cardiologists. And "if the wording of the vignettes were changed, the responses might have been different," he added.

For more information:
- here's the study
- read this HealthDay News piece
- check out this Wall Street Journal Health Blog post