It’s enough to exasperate WhiteCoatRants (Oct. 20):
…Utter the terms “chest pain” and “trouble breathing” in the same sentence and with some doctors you’re getting a chest CT. It doesn’t matter that you have a cough, runny nose, that the chest pain is burning and only occurs when you cough, or that half the people in town have influenza because they didn’t get their flu shots. Even if bronchitis is the clinical diagnosis, there is still a 0.0001% chance that you could have a pulmonary embolism along with your bronchitis and we don’t want to miss it, because if we do, it may cause you to die and result in a lawsuit against the physician. Some doctors aren’t willing to take even the 1 in 1,000,000 chance that they’ll be sued. …
If a doctor doesn’t get every conceivable test on a patient and there is a bad outcome, then the doctor gets smacked with a lawsuit because the doctor didn’t do enough. Unless something changes, more and more patients coming to the emergency department will get megaworkups so nothing gets “missed.”
Then I read that some pompous plaintiff’s attorney said somewhere that “defensive medicine” was a myth. His theory was that if doctors do an extra test that catches a disease while it’s still treatable, then it is “good medicine,” not “defensive medicine.” Either he doesn’t get it because he is ignorant or he doesn’t get it because that attitude helps him afford his chalet in the Swiss Alps.
Medicine will never be perfect.
While on the subject, prominent health economist Uwe Reinhardt has cited our medical liability system as an important reason costs are significantly higher in the U.S. than elsewhere (PoL, Nov. 16). And KevinMD’s excellent section on defensive medicine has numerous posts in recent months we still haven’t gotten around to linking, including: guest take by “Dr. SSS” on the “two most expensive words in medicine” (“Sometimes it is difficult for me to understand if I am really treating myself or the patient.”); background on the $210 billion estimate that has been bandied about; E.R. visit + chest pains = obligatory catheterization?; quote from PandaBearMD (“Why risk our own money when we can use somebody else’s to protect us, even if it costs millions?”; a British visitor’s view of immobilization collars; don’t put the doc’s name on the chart!; and more reader reactions (“even if a patient has a good relationship with a physician and is willing to forgo various diagnostic tests, the family can decide to sue later if there is a bad outcome. … it is far easier to just order the test”)