U.S. physicians use imaging as defensive medicine

2019 12 04 19 36 0058 Malpractice Magnifying Glass 400

U.S. physicians use medical imaging as a "defensive medicine" strategy to prevent malpractice litigation, according to a study published August 19 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

A group led by Dr. Alexander Villalobos of Emory University in Atlanta investigated state-level associations between incidence and payout amounts for medical malpractice claims and Medicare imaging use and spending. To do so, the team used Medicare beneficiary claims data from 2004 to 2016. The team identified all paid physician malpractice claims using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank files.

Although diagnostic imaging use and spending declined during the study time period (by 31.4% for imaging use and by 47.2% for spending), as did overall national paid malpractice claims and payout amounts (by 46.4% for paid claims and by 39.6% for award amounts), the researchers found that every 1% increase in average paid malpractice claims translated to a 0.2% increase in advanced imaging utilization (p = 0.001).

"Positive associations between paid malpractice claims and advanced Medicare imaging utilization support the contention that U.S. physicians use medical imaging as a defensive medicine strategy," the researchers concluded.

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