Culture Shift Required to Defeat Defensive Medicine


Hospitalist Allen Kachalia, MD, JD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, sees defensive medicine as a source of unnecessary costs—and a threat to patient safety.

In fact, he and his colleagues offered an oral presentation at HM13 earlier this year titled, “Overutilization and Defensive Medicine in U.S. Hospitals: A Randomized National Survey of Hospitalists.” In a survey of 1,020 hospitalists, it was reported that defensive medicine was practiced in 37% of pre-operative evaluations and 58% of syncope cases.

Dr. Kachalia says he understands the pressures that can lead physicians to order unnecessary tests, particularly when patients request them. So what does he say about those requests?

Dr. Kachalia

“The answer is a simple one but takes time and effort: If you don’t think that something is clinically indicated, you should talk with the patient, explaining to them why you don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. “And, hopefully, you can come to mutual agreement. Ordering things just for the sake of preventing legal liability is just not the right thing to do.”

Dr. Kachalia says he believes that a paradigm shift in how medical liability is handled in this country is needed to change those habits.

But culture change also takes time.

Bryan Weiss, MBA, managing director of the consulting services practice at Irving, Texas-based MedSynergies, says the first step of that change may be having physicians admit that few doctors know a lot about malpractice issues, because they are typically negotiated, arranged, and paid for by their employers, whether that’s a hospital or large management companies.

“It’s not me versus them,” says Weiss, a Team Hospitalist member. “As a specialty, we need to be in this together, to push the education and awareness that it’s OK not to know, so let’s work together to make it better. But it’s not going to happen overnight.”

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