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How Medical Malpractice Relates To U.S. Physicians Often Prescribing Excessive Medications

Across the country, patients of all age groups are prescribed medications that they may not actually need. There are multiple cases related to “over-prescribing” medications, such as with the opioid pain pills or from harmful drug interactions. Many doctors want to offer personalized care for people and still adhere closely to the current standards of care. Those who practice medicine are very aware of the potential for medical malpractice suits. Many of the prescriptions written every day are simply a means of providing short-term relief, rather than truly addressing the underlying or core causes of many medical conditions.

On television, we see that drug manufacturers who advertise their products on a direct-to-consumer basis are aware of the high likelihood of facing litigation. This is usually demonstrated toward the end of the ad when the long list of potential side effects are flashed on the screen as well as verbally expressed, a clear attempt at fully disclosing all “possible” negative consequences. A recent study of over 2,000 doctors showed that “over-treating” patients is quite common, based on these findings:

  • 22% of prescriptions medications are unnecessary
  • 24% of ordered tests are unnecessary
  • 11% of ordered procedures are unnecessary
  • 85% of respondents say these unnecessary actions are conducted based on fear of being sued for medical malpractice

Dr. Martin Makary, Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, says that operations for blood vessels in the legs, many surgical procedures relating to the spine, and the placement of stents are common unnecessarily ordered and executed. In today’s extremely cost-conscious healthcare market, this pattern runs contrary by driving up costs, with little patient benefit.

Many physicians are voicing their opinions on the importance of actually treating underlying conditions instead of simply writing more prescriptions for health conditions. Some feel this pattern is largely influenced by pharmaceutical companies and patients wanting to find a pill to solve any problem that they have. Dr. Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, feels that doctors want to be viewed as “problem solvers” and are too quick to offer short-term remedies without understanding the potential risks involved. 

With the lengthy approval process for new products by the Food & Drug Administration, there is a misconception that the medication “must be safe for use”. Some products on the market are abruptly removed from the market after the result of negative outcomes.

Doctors who choose a more conservative approach to prescribing medications typically practice as follows:

  • Recommend non-drug focused therapies designed to prevent symptoms and address root causes of conditions
  • Use a strategic approach to prescribing that does not involve treating each problem with multiple combinations of prescription drugs
  • Remain conscious about drug interactions and take the time to explain the possible side effects to the patient
  • Are cautious in prescribing the new medications on the market until longer-term results and reports have been completed
  • Will propose discontinuation of existing prescriptions rather than simply prolonging usage for many years

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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