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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Non-Clinical Medicine - Public Health and Epidemiology - Surgery

Malpractice Liability and Defensive Medicine: A National Survey of Neurosurgeons
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012
Author: Brian V. Nahed et al.

by Brian V. Nahed, Maya A. Babu, Timothy R. Smith, Robert F. Heary

Background

Concern over rising healthcare expenditures has led to increased scrutiny of medical practices. As medical liability and malpractice risk rise to crisis levels, the medical-legal environment has contributed to the practice of defensive medicine as practitioners attempt to mitigate liability risk. High-risk specialties, such as neurosurgery, are particularly affected and neurosurgeons have altered their practices to lessen medical-legal risk. We present the first national survey of American neurosurgeons’ perceptions of malpractice liability and defensive medicine practices.

Methods

A validated, 51-question online-survey was sent to 3344 practicing U.S. neurosurgeon members of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, which represents 76% of neurosurgeons in academic and private practices.

Results

A total of 1028 surveys were completed (31% response rate) by neurosurgeons representing diverse sub-specialty practices. Respondents engaged in defensive medicine practices by ordering additional imaging studies (72%), laboratory tests (67%), referring patients to consultants (66%), or prescribing medications (40%). Malpractice premiums were considered a “major or extreme” burden by 64% of respondents which resulted in 45% of respondents eliminating high-risk procedures from their practice due to liability concerns.

Conclusions

Concerns and perceptions about medical liability lead practitioners to practice defensive medicine. As a result, diagnostic testing, consultations and imaging studies are ordered to satisfy a perceived legal risk, resulting in higher healthcare expenditures. To minimize malpractice risk, some neurosurgeons have eliminated high-risk procedures. Left unchecked, concerns over medical liability will further defensive medicine practices, limit patient access to care, and increase the cost of healthcare delivery in the United States.

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