Fear of medical malpractice claims prompting overtreatment

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on May 12, 2012 in Medical Malpractice

Contrary to what tort reformists will tell you, medical malpractice lawsuit s have spurred many important changes in the medical community and have greatly improved both the quality and safety of patient care in this country. Unfortunately, the fear of being sued for medical malpractice is also a factor that has prompted many doctors and health care facilities in West Virginia to go overboard in caring for patients.

Is that really a bad thing though? After all, isn't it better for patients to receive too much care than not enough? The answer to both questions is "it depends."

For example, each of us can be harmed by exposure to radiation. By extension, the more radiation we are exposed to over the course of our lifetimes, the greater the likelihood we will be damaged by it. With this in mind, it makes sense to avoid taking unnecessary x-rays of children, who cannot tolerate the same level of radiation exposure as an adult and who may someday need all the radiation tolerance they can get due to an illness.

This is why the American College of Radiology recommends that doctors not use CT scans to confirm suspected appendicitis in children without first performing an ultrasound test.

Overtreatment can also be harmful to patients on a financial level -- directly, in terms of the bill patients pay for procedures and tests they didn't really need, and directly in the sense that the waste of medical resources that comes with overtreatment makes those same tests and procedures more expansive that they should be.

While medical malpractice continues to present far greater concerns for West Virginia patients, avoiding the potential costs and consequences of overtreatment is a fairly simple matter. The key is to ask questions about your options (including the option of doing nothing), the risks and benefits of each choice, the nature of various tests and procedures, and the process for learning about and addressing the results.

Source: Times Union, "5 questions you should ask to avoid overtreatment," May 4, 2012.

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