Does defensive medicine work?

According to a paper by Jena, Schoemaker, Bhattacharya, and Seabury (2015), the answer is yes.

Across specialties, greater average spending by physicians was associated with reduced risk of incurring a malpractice claim. For example, among internists, the probability of experiencing an alleged malpractice incident in the following year ranged from 1.5% (95% confidence interval 1.2% to 1.7%) in the bottom spending fifth ($19 725 (£12 800; €17 400) per hospital admission) to 0.3% (0.2% to 0.5%) in the top fifth ($39 379 per hospital admission). In six of the specialties, a greater use of resources was associated with statistically significantly lower subsequent rates of alleged malpractice incidents.

Policymakers and health policy wonks aim to reduce the practice of defensive medicine; this study, however, indicates that defensive medicine may be incentive compatible for physicians.



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