Join us at 7 p.m. ET Thursday as experts answer your questions about the coronavirus delta variant, boosters and self-care. Find out more.
Doctors & Hospitals
by Tauren Dyson, AARP Bulletin, August 24, 2010
Ever wonder if all the tests your doctor prescribes are really necessary?
A new study looked at just that question and found that most physicians believe their peers do indeed order needless medical tests and procedures.
Why all the tests? Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York found that 91 percent of 1,231 physicians surveyed said doctors order excessive tests for patients to protect themselves against malpractice suits, says Tara Bishop, M.D., coauthor of the study. The findings of the study were published in the June 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. And Bishop says they suggest one reason it is so hard to rein in the costs of health care.
“It’s really hard to quantify how much this problem costs the American health care system,” Bishop says. “One of the estimates is that it’s $60 billion a year, some argue that it is actually more than that.”
She noted that the potential threat of a malpractice lawsuit was a constant concern for the doctors she surveyed. According to the study, more than two malpractice claims are paid for every 100 physicians.
The study bolsters earlier research by the American Medical Association that found a sharp increase in the cost of potentially unnecessary cancer testing among Medicare patients between 1999 and 2006.
But other health policy experts are skeptical about the study’s results.
Taylor Lincoln, research director at Public Citizen, a Washington advocacy group, says doctors “are the least reliable source of information because they have a vested interest” in pointing a finger at medical malpractice suits. He adds that the survey isn’t a thorough examination of the practice of defensive medicine. “It doesn’t say a thing about the amount of defensive medicine that physicians practice,” Lincoln says.
Tauren Dyson is an intern with the AARP Bulletin.
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
Visit the AARP state page for information about events, news and resources near you.
Featured AARP Member Benefits
See All >
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
You'll start receiving the latest news, benefits, events, and programs related to AARP's mission to empower people to choose how they live as they age.
You can also manage your communication preferences by updating your account at anytime. You will be asked to register or log in.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at