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Protecting doctors from malpractice suits doesn't slow 'defensive medicine,' study says

A study released Wednesday by the Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation suggests that removing the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits — a reform long embraced by many health experts — does little, if anything, to reduce the amount of unnecessary and expensive procedures ordered by doctors practicing what is known as "defensive medicine."

Defensive medicine is blamed for billions of dollars in unnecessary health care spending each year.

The Rand researchers studied the behavior of emergency room doctors in three states that made it harder to sue: Georgia, Texas and South Carolina. They reviewed 3.8 million Medicare patient records from 1,166 hospitals over a 14-year-span that included the years before and after the adoption of those states' tougher malpractice laws.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine,  found the tougher malpractice laws had no impact on doctors’ use of CAT scans, MRIs, and hospitalization after an ER visit. Georgia was the only state that experienced a drop in average emergency room charges  - and the reduction was small, just 3.6 percent.