Survey: Government Physicians Practice Less Defensive Medicine Than Private Sector Peers

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Physicians working under contract with the federal government practice less defensive medicine than their private sector peers, according to a new survey by Atlanta-based clinical staffing organization, Jackson Healthcare.

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The root driver of defensive medicine, and its inflation of our overall healthcare costs, is the fact that physicians in the private sector are the only physicians in the world who are personally financially liable for mistakes.

Physicians working under contract with the federal government practice less defensive medicine than their private sector peers, according to a new survey by Atlanta-based clinical staffing organization, Jackson Healthcare.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 21,000 physicians and surgeons are employed by the federal government in a full-time or part-time capacity. Of those under contract with the federal government, their scope includes the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Justice (Federal Bureau of Prisons), U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corps.

Forty-eight percent of government-contracted physicians report practicing defensive medicine. This is notably less than the private sector. Similar studies of private sector physicians by Gallup and Jackson Healthcare in 2010 found that 73 percent and 92 percent of private sector physicians, respectively, admitted to practicing defensive medicine.

Of the physician respondents who have worked in both the government and private sectors, 62 percent reported practicing more defensive medicine in the private sector than in the government sector. Thirty-four percent reported practicing the same amount in both.

According to Jackson Healthcare Chairman and CEO, Richard L. Jackson, “Physicians working for the federal government feel less personally threatened by medical malpractice lawsuits than their counterparts in the private sector.”

Jackson said that the Federal Tort Claims Act offers government-contracted physicians protection against personal financial liability, whereas private sector physicians work under the constant shadow of lawsuit lottery suits.

One government physician respondent wrote that there was “less fear of malpractice in the federal system.” He believed he had protection since punitive damages can’t be made against the government and the patient population is less likely to sue.

The survey also found that physicians working for the Department of Defense reported the least amount of defensive medicine, compared with physicians working for the Veterans Administration and in the private sector.

“The root driver of defensive medicine, and its inflation of our overall healthcare costs, is the fact that physicians in the private sector are the only physicians in the world who are personally financially liable for mistakes,” says Jackson.

Jackson is currently working on federal and state-specific solutions that protect patients, while reducing defensive medicine.

Further details of this survey can be found at Jacksonhealthcare.com/Research.

Survey Methodology

Jackson Healthcare conducted a web-based survey of 347 physicians. The survey has an error range of +/- 3.42 percent, at the 95 percent confidence level.

About Jackson Healthcare

Jackson Healthcare provides hospitals with physicians, clinicians and allied health professionals to ensure the delivery of timely, high quality patient care. Founded by healthcare innovator Richard L. Jackson, Jackson Healthcare serves more than two million patients in nearly one thousand hospitals each year.

Jackson has consistently been recognized as one of the largest and fastest growing staffing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine, Atlanta Business Chronicle, Georgia Trend and Staffing Industry Analysts. Its healthcare research and charitable work continue to garner national media attention.

Visit JacksonHealthcare.com to learn more.

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Keith Jennings
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