Doctors are resorting to many tests during pregnancy and labour which they have no faith in just to avoid lawsuits.
A questionnaire sent to over 3000 members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that over 80 per cent of respondents believed that ultrasound, foetal movement charts, foetal heart monitoring during labour and doppler blood flow techniques were inaccurate, but nevertheless continued to use them. Ultrasound was considered the most accurate test, with biochemical tests of foetal well being the least.
While most respondents believed that continuous foetal heart monitoring was inaccurate, nearly 90 per cent felt it aided clinical judgement. Two thirds engaged in it for "medicolegal reasons" ie, for the file in case of a lawsuit.
To the Lancet (7 September 1991) this trend demonstrated that the UK is beginning to moving into the kind of defensive obstetric practices currently employed by American doctors, who automatically opt for a battery of "just in case" measures, mainly for the record, in case of a lawsuit.
The risks of getting sued even in the States are a good deal less than doctors believe, however. A Harvard Medical Practice Study examined malpractice cases in New York and found that there were eight times as many medical accidents due to negligence as there were claims against doctors.
To us, these results pose a far more disturbing question than one of whether obstetric litigation is on the rise namely, how many other medical tests deemed to be inaccurate are nevertheless used to "aid clinical judgement"?
And what kind of judgement are they aiding?