Home Articles Thousands undergo unnecessary surgical procedures annually, report finds

Thousands undergo unnecessary surgical procedures annually, report finds

On behalf of Robert Norfleet

Although many patients trust their surgeons to make founded recommendations regarding their treatment, a recent report finds that this trust is often misplaced.

A recent report from USA Today made a shocking discovery about surgery today-physicians often recommend surgeries to their patients that are not necessary to treat their condition. According to the report's findings, this problem affects many thousands of patients in the United States each year.

To collect the data for the report, researchers primarily used the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a collection of negative outcomes (e.g. malpractice judgments or negative findings by licensing agencies) involving a healthcare provider. According to the data, unnecessary surgeries affect all areas of medical practice. However, some medical specialties are especially prone to this problem. In cardiology, for example, the report found up to 20 percent of all surgeries performed are not needed.

Why do these unnecessary surgeries occur? Researchers pinpointed two main reasons. The first reason was financial gain by fraud. In these cases, the physician attempted to maximize his or her profits by recommending unnecessary and expensive procedures that would be later paid for by private insurance companies or the federal government through Medicare or Medicaid.

The other primary cause of unneeded surgeries was simple medical negligence. In this situation, the physician did not have the training, experience or competence to advise the patient when a surgical option is best avoided, because it is too risky or offers little benefit. In many of these cases, the patient's condition would have been more effectively treated by medication or other less risky non-surgical alternatives.

According to the report, since 2005, over 1,000 physicians have paid out settlements to victims to settle medical malpractice claims where unnecessary or inappropriate surgical procedures were allegedly involved. Although this seems to indicate a rather small number, the report cautions that the actual number of victims is quite higher-probably in the tens of thousands each year. The reason for this discrepancy is that the data used in the report only represented those patients that had discovered the mistake and taken legal action as a result.

Protecting yourself

Although unnecessary surgeries occur in all specialties, government and academic sources and studies have found that they occur more often in the following procedures:

  • Cardiac stents
  • Pacemaker implants
  • Spinal surgeries
  • Hysterectomies
  • Angioplasties
  • Cesarean sections
  • Knee or hip replacements

Patients that have surgeries they do not need are needlessly subjected to the risks common with every surgery, such as infections and blood clot development. On top of this, they are also unnecessarily exposed to the possibility of anesthesia and surgical errors, which can cause life-long disability or even death.

To guard against this possibility, patient advocates advise patients to take an active role in their care. Experts advise patients to research the proposed procedure and ask questions, especially, "What would happen if I do not have this procedure?" In almost all cases, there is no medical reason to have the surgery immediately, so there is plenty of time to get a second opinion if the explanation is unsatisfactory.

Patients that have been the victims of unnecessary surgeries (or surgical errors) are well advised to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The attorneys at Norton & Norfleet can gather the necessary evidence of malpractice and advise you further of your right to seek compensation under law.

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