Defensive medicine accounts for one-third of health costs, hospital execs say

Hospital administrators estimate that one-third of healthcare costs are the result of tests and treatments that aren't medically necessary and ordered defensively to prevent lawsuits, according to a new survey by Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare. 

Other highlights of the survey, which 106 hospital executives completed in early 2014, included the following:

  • Ninety-four percent of respondents said they believe the practice of defensive medicine drives up healthcare costs, while 62 percent said it protects hospitals from litigation.

  • Executives estimated that 57 percent of physicians practice defensive medicine (in a separate Gallup survey in 2010, 73 percent of physicians stated they practiced some form of defensive medicine during the previous year).

  • Sixty-five percent of hospital executives said defensive medicine hurts hospitals' financial performance, while 27 percent reported a positive impact.

  • Respondents were almost evenly divided on how defensive medicine affects patient care quality, with 31 percent citing a positive impact, 32 percent reporting a negative impact, 30 percent claiming no impact and 7 percent stating they didn't know.

"We have been studying the reach and impact of defensive medicine for five years and the conclusions are consistent," Richard L. Jackson, chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare, said in the survey announcement. "The data shows defensive medicine is impacting healthcare costs and is a uniquely American problem."

To learn more:
- read the announcement (.pdf)