85% of physicians: Fear of malpractice leads to over-treatment

Over-treating patients means wasted resources and increased exposure to harm for individuals. In a study published in PLOS ONE, researchers surveyed physicians on causes, prevalence and consequences of over-treatment.

This study evaluated survey responses of 2,106 physicians from the American Medical Association (AMA) masterfile. The survey asked respondents about the extent of over-treatment and the causes, solutions and implications of care.

Overall, 70.1 percent of those surveyed responded. Results showed physicians reported 20.6 percent of medical care was unnecessary including 22 percent of prescriptions, 24.9 percent of testing and 11.1 percent of procedures. The top reason for over-treatment was fear of malpractice at 84.7 percent, patient pressure at 59 percent and difficulty accessing medical records at 38.2 percent. Popular solutions included training residents at 55.2 percent, easier access to outside health records at 52 percent and more practice guidelines at 51.5 percent.

“From the physician perspective, over-treatment is common,” concluded first author Heather Lyu and colleagues. “Efforts to address the problem should consider the causes and solutions offered by physicians.”