How your doctor gets paid may factor into whether he recommends invasive surgery or to simply manage your condition with medication and lifestyle changes, according to a new study published in JAMA Surgery.

The study compared the recommendations made by fee-for-service physicians in the private sector to those made by military doctors, who get paid a salary that is not affected by the number of procedures they perform. The study found that for patients diagnosed with carotid artery stenosis – a condition that indicates a higher risk of stroke – fee-for-service physicians were 63 percent more likely to recommend surgery than military doctors.

“Fee-for-service doctors are incentivized to do more because they are paid by the procedure,” the lead author of the study told The New York Times. “And salaried physicians are incentivized to do less. That’s human behavior.”

The authors of the study say we need to come up with a compensation system for doctors that rewards them for aggressively “treating patients in a timely fashion,” without incentivizing them to “create procedures for reimbursement.”

But until someone figures out how to do that, how should you as a patient evaluate your doctor’s recommendations? While all medications carry some potential side effects, surgery also carries with it certain inherent dangers such as anesthesia-related errors,  hospital infections, surgical mistakes, etc.

Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests asking several questions before agreeing to surgery, including:

  • Why is this procedure needed?
  • What are the alternatives to this procedure?
  • Are there other treatment choices available based on my current medical condition?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • What are the benefits of the surgery and how long will they last?
  • What are the risks and possible complications of having the surgery?

For the vast majority of doctors, their patient’s well being is the primary driver of their recommendations. But as we all know, doctors are also human beings with the same biases and shortcomings as everyone else.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions before accepting any treatment plan. Additionally, if you feel that you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a doctor’s erroneous recommendation, contact the Medical Malpractice litigators at Sommers Schwartz to discuss your situation.

Matthew Curtis

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Matthew Curtis

Matthew Curtis is a senior shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. For the past 30 years, he has successfully litigated complex personal injury and medical malpractice cases throughout Michigan, and across the United States.