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Doctors Practicing Defensive Medicine More and More

Doctors Practicing Defensive Medicine More and More

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingAn alarming number of doctors are ordering unnecessary diagnostic tests, avoiding risky procedures, and even avoiding certain patients. Pure and simple, doctors are scared of getting sued.

Many doctors now practice what's become known as defensive medicine. What's surprising is how widespread this practice may be, and how the biggest loser may be the patient.

From doctors who refuse to perform spinal surgery, to ordering a biopsy on a lump unlikely to be cancer. These are the hallmarks of defensive medicine, where doctors make decisions designed to protect themselves from medical malpractice lawsuits.

Dr. George Lee, California Pacific Medical Center: "Today most physicians think about it all the time. It's one of the most prevalent anxieties that the practicing physician carries."

A new survey suggests this practice is more widespread than previously believed. Harvard researchers questioned more than eight hundred physicians in Pennsylvania. Nine out of ten said they practice defensive medicine, including: ordering unnecessary diagnostic tests, prescribing more drugs than medically indicated, referring high risk patients to another physician, or refusing to treat them at all. And it's not just among those who practice high risk medicine.

Dr. Lee: "Family care physicians, family practice physicians are increasingly concerned about the risk of not referral, the risk of missing a diagnosis and that's not something that's going to go away in the climate we live in today."

Dr. George Lee practiced obstetrics for twenty-five years before moving into hospital administration at CPMC. As an expert on medical liability, Dr. Lee says defensive medicine is widely practiced. The costs can be both astronomical and potentially harmful.

Dr. Lee: "When you pay for excessive testing, you're hurting the patient at large. You may not hurt that individual, but you're hurting everybody because that means more and more people won't be able to afford health insurance and some may go undiagnosed because of that."

And those who may suffer the most may be women. More radiologists are refusing to do routine mammograms, and in some parts of the country you can't find an OB/GYN to deliver babies.

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