“Putting all this together, the findings say higher spending by physicians is associated with lower claims,” Dr. Jena said. “What that means is more difficult to say.”
The study’s findings are limited, because the researchers did not have much information on the severity of the patients’ illnesses. They also can’t prove the higher spending is actually a result of practicing defensive medicine.
“The only thing you can say with certainty is there is a correlation between spending and a risk of being named as a defendant on a lawsuit, but that’s a correlation without causation,” Dr. Daniel Waxman, of RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., told Reuters Health.
“Yes, doctors are afraid of lawsuits, but they’re also afraid of looking bad,” said Dr. Waxman, who has researched defensive medicine but was not involved in the new study. “There are other motivations to do more as well.”
For example, he said, obstetricians may perform more c-sections because they believe it’s best for their patients.
As for whether defensive medicine actually leads to fewer lawsuits, Dr. Waxman said the data used in the study can’t answer that question.
“From a research direction, we want to better understand why we’re finding this link,” he added.
The National Institutes of Health supported this research. The authors reported no disclosures.