Malpractice Fears Can Drive Costs Up

The CBO estimates that tort reform would only cut healthcare expenditures by 0.5%, but new research suggests that fear of litigation is a more significant driver of costs than actual malpractice cases.

To the disappointment of many doctors, the recently passed healthcare reform law had virtually nothing in it that concerned malpractice reform, other than providing grants to states that want to set up and evaluate pilot tort reform projects such as health courts.

In addition to a resistance on the part of many Democrats to tort reform, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that lowering professional liability for doctors and hospitals would cut total healthcare expenditures by just 0.5%, putting a damper on any efforts to rethink the current malpractice system.

A new study, however, shows that fear of litigation can be a significant driver in the number of cardiac procedures that doctors order and the cost associated with those procedures. The researchers asked about 600 cardiologists nationwide whether they would ever be influenced by non-clinical factors in ordering cardiac catheterization. One out of four said that fear of a lawsuit would be a factor in their decision, while 27% said they were likely to order the procedure if they thought their colleagues would.

Looks like he'll be ordering a cardiac catheterization.

Both factors were connected to the tendency to recommend catheterization but only the fear of malpractice was linked significantly to regional differences in utilization, according to the research team. The researchers also concluded that fear of litigation was a significant incentive for a fairly large number of doctors to order tests that are potentially unnecessary and that the survey results indicated that malpractice reform was an issue that needed to be looked at more closely.