Medical Malpractice Fear Drives Doctors to Order Too Many Tests MD Survey Shows

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

Medical Malpractice Fear Drives Doctors to Order Too Many Tests MD Survey ShowsMedical Malpractice Fear drives many doctors to order too many tests.

This is not just a random opinion or a politician’s rant … it is a finding from a 2011 survey of the Physicians themselves! 627 randomly selected Primary Care Doctors were surveyed in 2009 producing some fascinating findings with regards to medical malpractice fears and their effects on doctor’s behavior. This got a lot of press … here are the highlights.

Does Medical Malpractice Fear Drive TOO MUCH CARE?

42% of the 627 respondents believed the patients in their own practice were getting too much care. Just 6% of doctors believed their patients were getting too little care. (The rest thought the level of care was just right.)

What did the doctors blame the excessive care on?


  • 28% of the doctors thought they themselves were practicing more aggressively than they would prefer to
  • 76% of doctors blamed medical malpractice worries for their over-aggressive care
  • 83% of physicians thought they could easily be sued for failure to order a test that was indicated
  • Only 21% thought they could be sued for ordering a test that wasn’t indicated

40% of doctors surveyed said inadequate time to spend with patients led them to order tests or refer patients to specialists rather than use other, less-aggressive ways of addressing patients’ issues.

FINANCIAL INCENTIVES – only for the “other guy”
Financial incentives were also cited, but “most thought they affected other physicians,” the study found. Look at these response rates below and the term “finger pointing” comes to mind.

  • Only 3% said financial considerations influenced their own care decisions
  • While 39% said they affected other primary-care doctors
  • And 62% thought they affected sub-specialist physicians
Here are the results and conclusion from the Study Abstract.


  • Forty-two percent of US primary care physicians believe that patients in their own practice are receiving too much care; only 6% said they were receiving too little.
  • The most important factors physicians identified as leading them to practice more aggressively were medical malpractice concerns (76%), clinical performance measures (52%), and inadequate time to spend with patients (40%).
  • Physicians also believe that financial incentives encourage aggressive practice: 62% said diagnostic testing would be reduced if it did not generate revenue for medical subspecialists (39% for primary care physicians).
  • Almost all physicians (95%) believe that physicians vary in what they would do for identical patients; 76% are interested in learning how aggressive or conservative their own practice style is compared with that of other physicians in their community.


  • Many US primary care physicians believe that their own patients are receiving too much medical care.
  • Medical Malpractice reform, realignment of financial incentives, and more time with patients could remove pressure on physicians to do more than they feel is needed.
  • Physicians are interested in feedback on their practice style, suggesting they may be receptive to change.

And as you might expect, this got a lot of Press Coverage and ** SPIN **

Medical Malpractice Fear Article in the Wall Street Journal




PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – do your  patients get too much or too little care – or is your practice “just right”?

If you say too much … why is that in your case (medical malpractice fear)?