Report: Unneeded Surgeries Affect Thousands Each Year

On behalf of Anne Gilday

Although you may trust your surgeon to only recommend procedures that are needed, a recent report found that this trust is often misplaced.

When you consult with a physician, you assume that he or she will only recommend procedures and surgeries that are actually necessary to treat your condition. However, according to a recent report from USA Today, many thousands of patients undergo surgeries that are not needed every year.

For the report, the researchers looked at data from the National Practitioner Data Bank. This is a database that includes negative outcomes involving a healthcare provider, such as medical malpractice judgments or adverse action taken against a provider by a licensing agency.

From the database, it was found that more than 1,000 physicians have settled malpractice claims since 2005 where unnecessary or inappropriate surgical procedures were alleged. Unfortunately, this number is deceptively small, since it only includes instances where the patient discovered the physician's error and sued. In many cases, patients never find out that their operations were not needed. From the data, the researchers estimated that the actual number of victims of unnecessary surgeries is in the tens of thousands annually.

Why Do Unnecessary Surgeries Occur?

Having analyzed the data, the researchers concluded that unnecessary surgeries occur for two main reasons: fraud and incompetence. Physicians committing fraud recommend unneeded surgeries to improve their bottom lines. In many of these cases, just about everyone suffers, as the costs of the unneeded procedures are picked up by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, which are then passed on to taxpayers or other policy holders.

In the other cases, the physician recommends an unneeded surgery because he or she does not have the training or experience to know when it is better to avoid such a procedure. For example, the surgery may be too risky or offer little benefit. In other cases, the condition may be treated more effectively with medication or other nonsurgical alternatives.

Some Surgeries Especially Suspect

The report found that although unnecessary surgeries occur in all types of surgeries, some specialties are particularly rife with them. In cardiology alone, the report found that approximately 20 percent of surgeries performed were not needed. Additionally other studies have found that certain specific procedures are often not necessary:

  • Pacemaker implants
  • Angioplasties
  • Cardiac stents
  • Hip or knee replacements
  • Back surgeries
  • Cesarean sections
  • Hysterectomies

Unfortunately, patients that undergo unnecessary surgeries suffer needlessly from the pain and risks inherent in every surgery. If something goes wrong such as a surgical error, infection or anesthesia mistake, the consequences of the unnecessary surgery can potentially be lifelong or fatal.

When considering surgery, experts recommend you to research the proposed procedure and ask your physician questions (e.g. What would happen if I don't have this procedure?) to determine whether it is truly necessary. If you are not satisfied with the answers to your questions, get a second opinion.

If you have suffered because of an unnecessary surgery or other physician error, it is important to act quickly to protect your rights. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at The Lawrence Firm, PSC, can help you obtain the compensation that you are entitled to under law.