Moving beyond “defensive medicine”

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 - 23:30 in Health & Medicine

Doctors face tough choices during difficult childbirths — often involving the decision of whether to perform a cesarian section operation. And in the background lies a question: To what extent are these medical decisions motivated by the desire to avoid liability lawsuits? When doctors’ actions are driven by a desire to avoid legal entanglements, it is known as “defensive medicine.” When it comes to childbirth, one common perception holds that doctors, at uncertain moments in the delivery process, would be more likely to intervene surgically to avoid other potential problems. Now, a unique study co-authored by an MIT economist sheds light on the practice of defensive medicine, with a surprising result. The research, based on evidence from the U.S. Military Health System, finds that when doctors have immunity from liability lawsuits, they actually perform slightly more C-section operations, compared to when they are legally liable for those operations — about 4 percent...

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