Celebrity doctor and CNN anchor Sanjay Gupta recently wrote a op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he states that the increasing number of tests that doctors perform may to blame for the staggering number of medical malpractice deaths around the country.
Gupta says that about 200,000 Americans die because of medical negligence every year, although the number is simply an estimate because hospitals do not abide by most reporting requirements. The number of patients injured by medical negligence is likely far greater than the number of reported deaths.
A recent Medicare study found that 180,000 Medicare patients die from medical negligence annually, greatly expanding Guptas estimate for the general population. Another Medicare study found that doctors consistently over-tested Medicare patients. Over-testing increases the likelihood of a false positive or additional procedures being ordered. Theories regarding why over-testing occurs range from financial incentives to laziness on the part of medical providers.
Sometimes its just easier to repeat the test than to find the old results, one researcher said.
Sanjay Gupta noted that a survey of orthopedic surgeons revealed that a quarter of their tests were not medically necessary. Gupta speculates that these unnecessary tests are most likely due to defensive medicine and a surgeons desire not to be sued for medical negligence.
Herein lies a stunning irony, Dr. Gupta writes. Defensive medicine is rooted in the goal of avoiding mistakes. But each additional procedure or test, no matter how cautiously performed, injects a fresh possibility of error.