Two oral research poster presentations at HM13 explored malpractice concerns of hospitalists and the issue of defensive-medicine-related overutilization—popular topics considering how policymakers are attempting to bend the cost curve in the direction of greater efficiency and value.
Hospitalist Alan Kachalia, MD, JD, and colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted a randomized national survey of 1,020 hospitalists and analyzed their responses to common clinical scenarios. They found evidence of inappropriate overutilization and deviance from scientific evidence or recognized treatment guidelines, which the research team pegged to the practice of defensive medicine.
Dr. Kachalia’s presentation, “Overutilization and Defensive Medicine in U.S. Hospitals: A Randomized National Survey of Hospitalists,” was named best of the oral presentations in the research category.
“Our survey found substantial overutilization, frequently caused by defensive medicine,” in response to questions about practice patterns for two common clinical scenarios: preoperative evaluation and syncope, Dr. Kachalia said. Physicians who practiced at Veterans Affairs medical centers had less association with defensive medicine, while those who paid for their own liability insurance reported more. Overall, defensive medicine was reported for 37% of preoperative evaluations and 58% of the syncope scenarios.
More than 800 abstracts were submitted for HM13’s Research, Innovations, and Clinical Vignettes (RIV) competition. Nearly 600 were accepted, put on display at the annual meeting, and published online (www.shmabstracts.com). More than 100 abstracts were judged, with 15 of the Research and Innovations entries invited to make oral presentations of their projects. Three others gave “Best of RIV” plenary presentations at the conference.
The diversity and richness of HM13’s oral and poster presentations also will be highlighted in the Innovations department of The Hospitalist over the next year.
Asked to suggest policy responses to these findings, Dr. Kachalia said reform of the malpractice system is needed. “What a lot of us argue is that to get physicians to follow treatment guidelines, make them more clear and practical,” he said. “We’d also like to see safe harbors [from lawsuits] for following recognized guidelines.”
Adam Schaffer, MD, also a hospitalist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues reviewed a medical liability insurance carrier’s database of more than 30,000 closed claims for those in which a hospitalist was the attending of record. Dr. Schaffer’s retrospective, observational analysis, “Medical Malpractice: Causes and Outcomes of Claims Against Hospitalists,” of the claims database from 1997 to 2011 found 272 claims—almost 1%—for which the attending was a hospitalist.
“The claims rate was almost four times lower for hospitalists than for nonhospitalist internal-medicine physicians,” he said.
The average payment for claims against hospitalists also was smaller. He noted that the types of claims were similar and tended to fall in three general categories: errors in medical treatment, missed or delayed diagnoses, and medication-related errors (although claims also tended to have multiple contributing factors).
Research like Dr. Schaffer’s could help to inform patient-safety efforts and reduce legal malpractice risk, he said. If hospitalists have fewer malpractice claims, that information might also be used to argue for lower malpractice premium rates.
Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif.