RWJF Content Alert - In Defense of Defensive Medicine

Publication Date: 
September 10, 2010

New Analysis Suggests the Practice of Defensive Medicine and Potential Tort Reform, Have Relative Little Impact on Health Care Costs

“Defensive medicine”—behavior or actions by physicians designed to mitigate perceived threats of medical malpractice liability—is intuitively assumed by many to increase health care costs. A study recently published in Health Affairs, however, based on a 2008 physician survey and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concludes that while defensive medicine practices are commonplace, their overall cost to the medical system is small, a conclusion that concurs with other recent studies.

The study’s lead author, William Thomas, and his co-authors stress that their analysis does not suggest that tort reforms, such as caps on damages and limits on attorneys’ fees should not be enacted—saying that even small levels of extra cost should be eliminated from the system. However, they say claims of significant savings from tort reform are overstated, with estimated savings from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums being less than one percent of total medical care costs in every specialty, a savings that is lower than most previous estimates.

Read the Health Affairs article.