Young doctors getting defensive medicine lessons early on

But less than a third of physicians older than 55 learned these tactics when they were in medical school.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted May 19, 2010

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Defensive medicine practices creep into physicians' activities as early as medical school.

Eighty-seven percent of doctors who described themselves in a new survey as current residents or fellows reported being taught to practice defensive medicine while in medical school or residency.

Of survey respondents in the 25- to 34-year-old age bracket, 83% learned to practice defensively by ordering additional tests or referrals, or by avoiding high-risk procedures to safeguard against potential liability. Attending physicians and mentors are teaching these tactics, respondents said.

The results were based on online questionnaires of more than 1,400 physicians across the country and released in April by Jackson Healthcare, an Atlanta area-based health care management and technology company (link).

The survey was part of a series of recent polls by Jackson Healthcare aimed at quantifying the impact of liability fears on medical care.

The latest survey findings suggest that defensive medicine practices have become more common in recent years. Only 19% of physicians age 65 and older and 32% of doctors age 55 to 64 reported learning such behaviors during their medical training.

Seventy-two percent of physicians viewed defensive medicine as having a negative impact on patient care, while 67% said such practices come between doctors and patients.

High-risk specialties appeared to be particularly vulnerable to medical liability lawsuits, according to the study. Eighty-three percent of obstetrician-gynecologists polled, reported having been named in a lawsuit, as had 79% of surgeons and 68% of emergency physicians.

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