When someone is told by their primary care physician that they need to visit a specialist in order to fix whatever is ailing them, increased costs of care are often the first thing to run through the patient’s mind. Specialists are professionals who specialize in one or a few areas, rather than practice in general medicine and their fees can vary depending on the nature of the illness or injury. Insurance coverage for specialists also varies, and usually means more out-of-pocket costs for the patient. Many individuals do not balk at the increased costs, however, as it typically means that their issue will be handled by a skilled physician with expertise in the particular type of injury or illness. Therefore, it may be surprising for some to learn that when they are providing their expert opinion on what course of action to take with regard to treatment options, many specialists are guided more by their fear of lawsuits than their opinion on what is best for their patient.
Defensive medicine: the new frontier
Physicians who specialize in one particular area of medicine will often complete well over 10 years of study in order to complete college, medical school, a residency program, and fellowship program before practicing in their chosen specialty. This fact makes it even more surprising that a specialist would second guess themselves, and their education and expertise, in the face of a nebulous threat such as someone choosing to file a lawsuit sometime in the future. Unfortunately for many patients, this ‘defensive medicine’ is becoming more and more common as doctors shy away from providing the care that they believe is right for their patient and move toward providing the care they believe will protect them from lawsuits. One study showed that out of over 1,000 board certified physicians, more than 80% admitted to ordering more imaging tests for defensive reasons. The study also showed that in states where malpractice lawsuits are common, neurosurgeons were less inclined to perform high-risk procedures, even if they believed that the procedure could help their patient.
Malpractice, by any other name, is still malpractice
While physicians and professionals in the health care industry may cite rising costs due to medical malpractice lawsuits to justify this new practice, what they may not realize is that deviating from what they admittedly believe is the best course of action may still leave them open to a malpractice suit. Regardless of whether the physician’s intent was to avoid malpractice liability, if the standard of care provided fell below what it should have been, malpractice laws still apply. Many may wonder how ordering more tests could possibly translate into malpractice, but the standard for malpractice does not change merely because someone says they are trying to avoid it. If, for example, a brain surgeon delays surgery for a patient in order to run additional tests that they do not truly believe are necessary out of a fear that they would be criticized if they did not, and that delay causes harm to the patient, they may have committed medical malpractice.
If you, or someone you love, has questions about medical care they have received, call the Law Offices of Robert T. Edens, P.C. today. Our attorneys have a deep knowledge of Illinois’ medical malpractice laws and can provide you with the professional guidance you need.