Gallup poll: 26% of healthcare dollars spent on unnecessary medical care

March 15, 2010

One in four dollars spent on health care in America now pays for unnecessary tests and treatments that physicians order to keep from being sued, according to a new Gallup poll of the nation's doctors.

One in four dollars spent on healthcare in America now pays for unnecessary tests and treatments that physicians order to keep from being sued, according to a new Gallup poll of the nation's doctors released by Jackson Healthcare and the Center for Health Transformation.

The poll showed that of physicians surveyed nationwide, 73% said they practiced some form of "defensive medicine" in the past 12 months to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits. And insurers are footing the bills for the services, while directly or indirectly passing the costs on to enrollees and plan sponsors.

In the study, defensive medicine was defined as: "The practice of diagnostic or therapeutic measures conducted primarily not to ensure the health of the patient, but as a safeguard against possible malpractice liability." This may include tests, prescriptions, hospitalizations and referrals that may not be medically necessary.

"Healthcare would be cheaper for every American if we could slash the cost of defensive medicine," said Newt Gingrich, founder of the Center for Health Transformation (CHT) in a statement. "Think of how often each of us gets sent for extra lab work or tests that seem so unnecessary."

Gallup conducted the six-week, nationwide survey across all specialties of physicians. Those doctors reported that 26% of overall healthcare costs can be attributed to the practice of defensive medicine.

According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, healthcare in America now costs $2.5 trillion annually.

CHT suggests addressing civil justice reform, or discouraging frivolous lawsuits, through several means including health courts that only consider medical malpractice cases.