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Giving Physicians Immunity From Malpractice Claims Does Not Reduce ‘Defensive Medicine,’  Medical News Today (Rand Corporation)

Changing laws to make it more difficult to sue physicians for medical malpractice may not reduce the amount of ‘defensive medicine’ practiced by physicians, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Studying the behavior of emergency physicians in three states that raised the standard for malpractice in the emergency room to gross negligence, researchers found that strong new legal protections did not translate into less-expensive care.

The findings are published in the Oct. 16 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

‘Our findings suggest that malpractice reform may have less effect on costs than has been projected by conventional wisdom,’ said Dr. Daniel A. Waxman, the study’s lead author and a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. ‘Physicians say they order unnecessary tests strictly out of fear of being sued, but our results suggest the story is more complicated.’

It is widely said that defensive medicine accounts for a substantial part of the hundreds of billions of dollars of unnecessary health care spending that is estimated to occur annually in the United States. Malpractice reform has been advocated by many experts as a key to reining in health care costs.

RAND researchers looked at three states — Georgia, Texas and South Carolina — that about a decade ago changed the legal malpractice standard for emergency care to gross negligence. Other states use the more common ordinary negligence standard, or a failure to exercise reasonable care.

The higher standard means that for physicians accused of malpractice in the three states examined, plaintiffs must prove that doctors consciously disregarded the need to use reasonable care, knowing full well that their actions were likely to cause serious injury. . . .