Letter to the Editor : Physicians' fears overstated

Boston Globe
Monday, November 24, 2008

To the editor:

"DOCTORS' FEAR of lawsuits tied to added costs of $1.4b" seems to suggest that, in these days of managed care, with health insurers frequently refusing to reimburse doctors for needed procedures, doctors are actually doing a large number of unnecessary tests because they fear being sued. This is ridiculous. But don't just take our word for it. Every government agency that has taken a serious look at the issue of "defensive medicine" has found little or no evidence of it, with one agency finding that defensive medicine comprises less than 8 percent of all diagnostic procedures. To the extent that doctors push for tests, they are driven not by liability concerns, but by a good-faith desire to provide quality healthcare to their patients. Don't we want that?

Medical malpractice claims and premiums account for less than 2 percent of all healthcare spending in this country. But the costs of medical errors are huge. According to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, preventable medical errors cost between $17 billion and $29 billion each year, and kill up to 98,000 people. If we're going to bring down costs, let's start there.

Andy Hoffman
Attorney and policy analyst
Center for Justice & Democracy
New York, NY

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