Is The Overall Cost Of The Medical Liability System Being Exaggerated?


Physicians and lawmakers were blown away Tuesday after reading a new study in the medical journal, Health Affairs. 
According to the study, the medical liability system was responsible for “$55.6 billion, or 2.4%, of total U.S. health spending” in 2008 and in the same year, the total amount of malpractice payments was $ 5.72 billion dollars. Furthermore, the study stated, eight of every 10 dollars spent on medical liability in 2008 ($45.6 billion dollars) was the result of unnecessary procedures ordered by physicians practicing defensive medicine due to their concern about potential malpractice lawsuits.

I think that the results of this study are highly suspect. The medical researchers of the study actually call the results of the study into question within their own article. The researchers, from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Melbourne in Australia, stated that due to the fact that there is no comprehensive system for tracking medical malpractice payments, the study’s results are highly compromised.

Furthermore, the authors of the study only used the National Practitioner Data Bank, a data bank compiled by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The authors of the study admit that the usage of this bank did not allow them to report accurate numbers and was only used because it was the only resource that “comes close” to allowing them to compile the data. These medical researchers also note that they “did not include the actual cost of medical insurance premiums in their calculations” or  physician’s profits. The lack of inclusion of this information can drastically skew the results of the study. According to independent researchers, the cost of medical liability to the overall health system, while not small, is “less imaginative” than those put forth by the study’s authors or by others involved in the medical liability debate.

This study should serve as a reminder to the medical community and medical researchers that the results of any new studies must be scrutinized carefully. The research methods employed and the authors’ sources must be analyzed, and its results should be taken with a grain of salt until there has been independent collaboration that they are accurate. I write a lot on this blog about new studies that have been published relating to medical malpractice and negligence. However, I always research opposing viewpoints to the study’s results. I suggest that you do the same anytime you see a new article on a study that boggles your mind.