At the age of 22, a semi-professional baseball player was told if he wanted to live to see 30, he would need to have a pacemaker installed.
Such major heart surgery, as such a young age, startled the young player, who had initially sought treatment after a brief fainting spell. But he trusted the doctor.
The surgery ended his baseball career, but he considered a fair trade for having his life.
Only, as both he and our Maine medical malpractice lawyers now know, it wasn't necessary at all. Soon after he had the surgery, local news outlets began reporting on the fact that the cardiologist he had trusted was being investigated by state health officials for performing unnecessary surgeries.
The former ball player sought numerous subsequent medical opinions. All now say blood pressure medication was in order - but not a pacemaker.
That surgeon is now in prison, following a federal criminal conviction for unnecessary Medicare billings for dozens of heart surgeries that it turns out weren't necessary.
Sadly, this kind of occurrence is not rare. USA Today recently reviewed years' worth of government records and medical databases and found tens of thousands of instances in which patients received unnecessary surgeries.
Such procedures are more than a nuisance. They put patients at risk of very real, long-term harm. No surgical procedure is without the risk of complications, and sometimes, those risks might even include death.
Further bolstering this claim is a recent scientific review of every issue of The New England Journal of Medicine from 2001 through 2010. Researchers discovered 363 studies that examined some type of clinical practice. Of those, 146 involved a drug or procedure that was found to be no better - or sometimes even worse - than one that had previously been used.
More than 40 percent of these established practices were found to be ineffective or even harmful. The effect of 22 percent was undetermined.
Those practices found to be among the most harmful:
- Hormone therapy in post-menopausal women;
- High-dose chemotherapy treatments;
- Stem-cell transplants;
- Expensive and complex treatments for breast cancer;
- Glucose-lowering measures for Type 2 diabetes patients in intensive care.
USA Today reports that somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of all surgical procedures may be unnecessary. In the last eight years, some 1,000 physicians have paid on medical malpractice claims that specifically related to allegations of inappropriate or unnecessary medical procedures. Roughly 50 percent of those cases involved a serious or permanent injury or death. A fair portion involved multiple plaintiffs.
Those cases are only the ones that landed in court. They represent just a small portion of the total number of unnecessary procedures conducted.
Unfortunately, there is no federal or state agency that keeps track of unnecessary procedures, and many doctors never face consequences. This is despite the complications, which can include:
- Chronic pain;
- Permanent disability;
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