Updated on: 2/23/2015
USA Today found that doctors perform or prescribe unnecessary surgery to tens of thousands of patients every year in the United States. This data paints a scary picture of a culture of doctors, motivated by profit, who will prescribe potentially dangerous surgical procedures that are completely unnecessary.
Many U.S. Doctors are Motivated by Profit
According to a summary of the study, unnecessary surgery is so rampant throughout the country that they can consist of 10 to 20 percent of all operations in certain medical practice specialties, including a variety of different types of cardiac procedures and spinal surgeries.
The researchers found that since 2005, more than one thousand doctors have made some form of payment to settle or close a medical malpractice claim in surgical cases that were found to involve some allegation of unnecessary surgery or an inappropriate procedure for the condition. Researchers analyzed the U.S. government’s National Practitioner Data Bank file, which is responsible for tracking such lawsuits.
Many times these procedures are seen as easy money to doctors because a patient can get in and out of the clinic without ever becoming aware that they were subjected to an unnecessary surgery. But in analyzing the file, the researchers also found that these mistakes can be extremely deadly; approximately half of the one thousand patients reported serious or disfiguring injuries or even death as a result of the unnecessary surgery.
Common Types of Unnecessary Surgery
To follow up its discovery of unnecessary surgery claims resulting from medical malpractice, the USA Today research team also found the procedures that are most commonly claimed as unnecessary by patients who were victimized. See the list below:
The frequency of surgical operations regarding back pain has doubled since the 1980s and Consumer Reports deemed that a significant percentage of those procedures were an unnecessary surgery. Approximately 17 percent of patients in one study had no medical symptoms or conditions that would warrant back surgery, yet they were performed anyway.
Medical professionals contend that stents are only beneficial to patients who already have a high risk of heart attack due to family history or obesity. One study found that approximately 12 percent of these procedures are medically unnecessary and actually increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
C-sections can be used to save a woman’s life if complications arise during the delivery of a child, but these procedures can also be very dangerous and result in injury or death to the patient. A C-section should only be performed when it is absolutely medically necessary.
An estimated 70 percent of women who undergo a hysterectomy have alternative options that they may or may not be aware of, according to a 2000 study. The study found that many doctors rush to prescribe a hysterectomy when there are alternative, safer options for the patient.
In 2012, one group of researchers conducted a study that revealed simply providing patients with information about nonsurgical alternatives to knee replacement surgery reduced the number of knee replacement procedures by 38 percent.
According to USA Today’s analysis of government data, 20 percent of cardiac pacemaker devices were prescribed and performed without any medical evidence that supported the necessity of this procedure.
A Second Opinion Could Make a Big Difference
If you find yourself being advised to undergo one of the above surgical procedures – or any surgical procedure for that matter, especially if it involves a high risk of injury or death – by a physician, it may be in your best interests to ask the doctor if there are any safer alternative options for treatment.
If the doctor insists that the procedure is necessary, it may also be beneficial to get a second opinion from another physician. Be sure to check that the doctor you consult with has experience in the area of medicine that you are inquiring about, as that will ensure a more accurate response from someone with experience in handling similar procedures.