What’s the problem with defensive medicine?
By Matthew Wilson
For a significant percentage of doctors in the UK, the possibility of being sued for clinical negligence affects the decisions they make and the care they offer patients. Is there a problem with that?
Consider this hypothetical but simplified scenario: a patient visits their GP complaining of headaches. Having examined them, and taken a full history, the GP diagnoses migraines and says that the sensible approach, in the first instance, is a course of painkillers. The patient is convinced their condition is more serious and that painkillers will not suffice. The GP, concerned about the anxiety the patient feels but perhaps also fearing criticism from the patient if he is wrong, refers them to the local hospital for a scan.
The scan confirms that the patient in fact has a brain tumour and that the tumour is the most likely cause of the headaches. Following various tests, the patient and the consultant meet. The consultant considers surgery to be the best option for the patient but, because of the tumour’s position, there is a material risk of an adverse result. In part due to the risk of a claim if surgery goes wrong, the consultant recommends chemotherapy instead…
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