A recent survey of U.S. physicians found that the majority (52%) believed the current level of care their patients receive is sufficient. However, media outlets and policy makers have focused on the minority (28%) who believe they are personally over-treating patients.
The report, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, tries to argue that the fear of malpractice suits is a driver for high health care costs.
The report cites that 42% of surveyed physicians believe that patients in their practice are receiving too much care. An analysis of the figures, however, shows that only 28% believe they personally are treating patients too aggressively. An overlapping 29% believe that others– in their personal opinion–are giving too much care. The 29% figure doesn’t show a trend of over-care, but rather focuses on perception, not fact.
The report also hones in on malpractice as a large driver of over-treatment. A majority of respondents (76%) cited malpractice as the primary cause of defensive medicine. Second, at 52%, was doctor concern about quality. Again, these questions were of perception. Studies have shown that physician fear of malpractice suits is highly disproportionate to actual rate of payouts to patients. Traditionally, the American Medical Association and other lobbying groups have pushed for malpractice caps and reform as a means to lessen physician anxiety and decrease over-practice. Studies have concluded that, despite an overall decrease in payouts, physicians appear to have grown more nervous.
The survey also sampled only 627 physicians or less than 1% of the nearly 1 million physicians active in 2009. The survey size is too small to be representative of true trends in health care. The report provides a specific snapshot of certain perceptions for a certain segment, but attempts to generalize the findings exist on shaky ground.