Our Enormous Hidden Problem: Unnecessary Surgeries

USA Today thinks up to 20% of cardiac procedures are bogus

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 20, 2013 12:52 PM CDT

(Newser) – There's an enormous epidemic afoot within the medical industry, and it's one that doesn't receive much attention: unnecessary surgeries. USA Today took an in-depth look at the issue, poring over the available research, and concludes that 10% to 20% of all surgeries in some specialties are unnecessary, particularly a host of cardiac procedures, spinal surgeries, and knee replacements. One 2011 study looking into more than 100,000 cardioverter-defibrillator procedures couldn't find any evidence justifying 22.5% of them. Another study followed neck and back patients, and found that 17% were prescribed unnecessary spinal procedures.

The paper's analysis found that more than 1,000 doctors have, since 2005, paid to settle or otherwise close malpractice claims related to allegations of unnecessary surgeries. Reports the paper ominously, "Those malpractice cases ... account for no more than a fraction of cases in which people got surgery that wasn't needed, and there's no way to know the total number." While some doctors are actually scammers—the paper recounts the story of one man whose baseball career was ruined by a pacemaker, implanted by a doctor who later went to jail for performing baseless surgeries—"I think there's a higher percentage who are not well trained or not competent," says one health administrator. "Then you have a big group who are more businessmen than medical professionals," who perform surgery whenever they can justify it because they're financially incentivized, too. For the full, detailed piece, click here.

Doctors are putting a lot of people under the knife who don't need it.
Doctors are putting a lot of people under the knife who don't need it.   (Shutterstock)
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I am seeing more and more patients who are told to have operations they don't need. They risk having major problems—infections, paralysis, heart attacks, strokes. - Nancy Epstein, neurosurgeon at
Winthrop University Hospital

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