Surgery sometimes is necessary for patients who have an injury or medical condition that less invasive treatments cannot help. However, surgery is not always the appropriate measure in every situation, and if a doctor performs unnecessary surgery, patients may suffer a number of medical problems as a result.
A recent USA Today review of government records and medical databases found that tens of thousands of times each year patients are wheeled into the nation’s operating rooms for surgery that is not necessary. The study found that some providers do so just to take advantage of insurers or Medicare to drain them of funds, and some surgeons and doctors lack the competence and training to know when procedures are not necessary. Other times the facts don’t call for a surgery, or alternative treatments would have remedied the problem just as effectively.
A largely hidden problem, the study reported that unnecessary surgeries might account for ten to twenty percent of all operations in some specialties, particularly cardiac and spinal procedures. Knee replacements, hysterectomies, and cesarean sections were among the other surgical procedures performed more often than needed, according to the review. The study also analyzed the U.S. government’s National Practitioner Data Bank public use filed, which tracks medical malpractice suits. Since 2005, the newspaper found, more than 1,000 doctors have made payments to settle or close malpractice claims in surgical cases that involved allegations of unnecessary or inappropriate procedures. About half of these payments involved allegations of serious permanent injury or death, and many of the cases involved multiple plaintiffs, suggesting hundreds, if not thousands, of victims.
The study found that in 2011 alone, about ten percent of all spinal fusions paid for by Medicare were not necessary. That translates to $157 million in improper payments, just for spinal surgeries in a single year. Unfortunately, though, only the most egregious claims of unnecessary surgery make headlines. This is partially attributed to the fact that the procedures are notoriously difficult to identify, even for the victims: when the symptoms are gone, the patient suspects nothing. But, that person might never know that the pain could have been relieved just as effectively with a less invasive procedure, or perhaps no procedure at all. The scope and toll of this problem are enormous, yet it remains overlooked. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.
As an experienced Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled a number of medical malpractice cases involving unnecessary surgery. If you have sustained injuries because a doctor performed an unnecessary surgery, I can help you. To see some of the cases we have handled, click here.