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How too much “doctoring” can lead to medical malpractice

In an article that was originally published on the New York Times Op-Ed page, the associate chief of neurosurgery at a well-known hospital wrote about medical mistakes. He cited a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine finding that as many as 98,000 Americans are killed each year because of medical mistakes.

The doctor said that there are many causes of medical malpractice, ranging from poor judgment to even recklessness. But he said the real problem may be that there are far too many procedures, tests and prescriptions being prescribed, unnecessarily putting patients at heightened risk.

For example, the doctor wrote that the number of doctor’s visits leading to at least five drugs being prescribed has nearly tripled since 1996. Additionally, in a recent and anonymous survey, 24 percent of orthopedic surgeons admitted to ordering tests that were medically unnecessary.

The doctor wrote that all too often, doctors are more worried about protecting themselves from legal liability than protecting the patient. He explained that although one would think that “defensive medicine” protects both the doctor and the patient, each unnecessary procedure presents another opportunity for error.

The doctor said that several good ideas have been presented suggesting ways to avoid medical mistakes, including a checklist for surgeons, rules designed to prevent nurses from being distracted when they are dispensing medication and software that warns doctors when a potentially dangerous combination of medications has been prescribed.

But the doctor said that perhaps the most beneficial solution is Morbidity and Mortality meetings, where doctors and staff members meet to learn from mistakes and rare cases. The sharing of this information will make doctors think twice before ordering an unnecessary procedure, test or medication, he said.

Source: CNN, “More is not always better in medicine,” Sanjay Gupta, August 1, 2012