In the last ten years, radiology tests such as CT Scans, MRIs and ultrasounds have dramatically changed how patients are diagnosed and treated, often for the better. But, their lifesaving benefits are increasingly overshadowed by what tort reformers constantly refer to as “defensive medicine” – the doctor’s fear of being sued by patients for not ordering a test.

Does defensive medicine exist? Is it the real reason doctors and hospitals order more tests for their patients? The following are a couple other reasons to consider why doctors and hospital order additional tests, besides for the most obvious reason, the benefit of a patient:

Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) Conferences – M&M conferences are held regularly in hospitals and clinics across the country. They are peer review assessment of mistakes made during the care of patients. The objective of an M&M conference is for doctors to learn from complications and errors, to modify behavior and judgment based on previous experiences, and to prevent repetition of errors. Once a doctor has presented at an M&M, he/she will probably never make that same mistake again – but he/she may also start ordering more tests on his/her patients for minor symptoms.

Money – Radiology tests all cost money, lots of money. For instance, MRI’s can cost from $400 to $3,500 depending upon which MRI procedure is performed and the location of the testing facility. Doctors and hospitals have contracts with radiology testing companies and testing centers. While physicians are prohibited from having a financial interest in a referral under the Stark Law (Section 1877 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395nn)), the average MRI machine costs over $1 million dollars. Thus, radiology testing centers have to charge enough per test to cover the expense of the machine. And if no tests are ordered, no one makes any money.

Today’s Doctors – Radiology tests have become a crutch for our doctors. According to a recent Time Magazine Article, doctors are no longer taught how to distinguish patients who need testing from those who do not. A decade ago, a surgeon would spend time interviewing and carefully examining a patient to help decide if he or she needed a CT. Nowadays, many surgeons, especially the younger ones, won’t see a patient until the CT is complete. Radiology testing has become more of a reflex than a higher level, well-thought out decision.

Next time you hear someone say that “defensive medicine is the reason doctors cannot practice medicine,” ask them about these other reasons as well.

For more information, or if you or a loved one, have been injured as the result of medical malpractice in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan Law. Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.


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