Defensive medicine negligence claims are becoming more and more common. For UK doctors, the possibility and reality of being sued for actions or inaction’s are very high, especially in troubled economic times, and in recent years, the toll that lawsuits have taken on doctors is even more significant than it has been in years’ done by. The problem with this is that doctors are becoming fearful and reports indicate that more and more doctors are allowing the possibility of being sued to impact their judgment and their actions when it comes to their patients. This behaviour is being referred to throughout the United Kingdom as defensive medicine. In short, defensive medicine is the descriptive term used to explain what happens when a doctor’s actions and decisions for the care of a patient are influenced directly by their fear of possible litigation.
There are two types of defensive medicine, though one is often more likely to lead to litigation than the other. These two types of defensive medicine are positive defensive medicine and negative defensive medicine. Positive defensive medicine has recently been described in news reports and lawsuits to be when a doctor performs additional tests that they have already deemed unnecessary for one reason or another, in an effort to keep themselves from being at risk of a lawsuit. Usually this positive defensive medicine tactic is used to push a patient off on another doctor or specialist in order to relieve themselves of any duty to the patient in regards to the medical problem they may or may not be experiencing.
Negative defensive medicine, on the other hand, which is being described in multiple lawsuits in the news of late, describes the inaction or the differing actions that a physician may take because of the fear of litigation, but in this sense there is a potential negative impact on the patient. For example, a recent case detailing the experience of a patient who received chemotherapy instead of receiving surgery because the physician was too afraid to operate due to the risk of death for the patient and potential litigation is a prime example of negative defensive medicine used in order to avoid medical negligence lawsuits. However, many physicians do not realize that these actions, or in actions as it were are in and of themselves, a form of medical negligence.
If it is discovered, as defensive medicine tactics have been in recent months, the doctor may face more than a medical negligence suit, especially if the patient dies. Medical negligence is often not willful and surgeons are able to settle cases. However, if the surgeon willfully avoids performing a specific surgery or other medical procedure because of the risk of litigation if something goes wrong, then that surgeon may be charged with more than just medical negligence.
The Medical Innovation Bill, which stopped taking public response on April 25th, gives medical providers more leeway to act in the best interests of their patients, provided they act responsibly. However, the fear of litigation may still keep doctors from pursuing what it truly best for patients.