Medical students learning to practice medicine defensively, survey finds

While limiting unnecessary tests is certainly one way to control spiraling healthcare costs, it's not a measure that's likely to take hold anytime soon. A national survey of 1,407 physicians found that a whopping 83 percent between the ages of 25 and 34 said they were taught to practice 'defensive medicine' to save their livelihoods rather than save lives. 

"The U.S. is the only major country in the world where physicians are personally financially liable for mistakes," said Richard Jackson, chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare, which conducted the web-based survey in March 2009. "This is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed at state and national levels." 

Richard Epstein, director of the law and economics program at the University of Chicago Law School, agrees. "Nobody is as hospitable to potential liability as we are in this country. The unmistakable drift is we do much more liability than anybody else and the evidence on improved care is vanishingly thin," he told American Medical News, published by the American Medical Association.

Medical liability claims in the U.S. make up 10 percent of all tort cases, with half of the expenses for such cases going to pay off legal costs. Epstein also believes that the fate of medical liability cases resting with juries and not judges plays a significant role in how doctors approach their jobs, according to American Medical News.

"Standards of care as a matter of law are decided by a jury, thumbs up or thumbs down," Epstein said. "No other country does that, and no other country has the legal fear that has created. If it's a legitimate claim, let [patients] be compensated....It's the unreliability that's counterproductive here." 

To learn more:
- read this Jackson Healthcare press release
- read this American Medical News article