Unnecessary medical treatments cost more than money

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“The public would be shocked if it knew the amount of unnecessary surgery performed … ” said Paul Hawley, the Director of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) from 1951 to 1960 in a New York Times article titled “Unneeded operating charged to surgeons” published in 1953.

Today, 65 years later, the public would be just as shocked.

“Overtreatment in the United States,” a survey administered to an online community composed of doctors from the American Medical Association in 2017, inquired about the prevalence, causes and implications of overtreatment.

Physicians reported that 20.6 percent of overall medical care was unnecessary, including 22.0 percent of prescription medications, 24.9 percent of tests, and 11.1 percent of procedures. The most cited reasons for overtreatment were fear of malpractice, patient pressure/request and difficulty accessing medical records.

Most disturbingly, 70.8 percent of respondents reported believing that physicians are more likely to perform unnecessary procedures when they profit from them.

Some of the most common unnecessary surgeries are spinal and knee surgeries, often providing no more benefit than simple exercise or no treatment at all.

One prominent example happened right here in Louisiana with Dr. Mehmood Patel, who was convicted by a federal jury on 51 counts of health care fraud in 2009.

Testimony revealed that Patel performed unnecessary coronary procedures such as deploying angioplasty balloons and stents and radiation in coronary arteries that had little or insignificant disease. He billed both Medicare and private healthcare insurance companies, resulting in over 3 million dollars paid to him and the hospitals where the procedures were performed.

He began serving his 10-year prison sentence in 2012.

Sadly, cases like this happen all over the country and often do not make headlines, leaving many people in the dark about possible malpractice happening in their own lives.

In medical schools, doctors are taught to operate, and that apparently takes precedence over any other way to treat problems that don’t require it.

It is especially lucrative when patients can afford it through their insurance, leaving even less of a reason to find alternatives. Some insurance companies have stopped covering certain procedures. Blue Cross of North Carolina, for instance, stopped covering spinal fusion operations, the demand for which soared until 2012, despite clinical trials that proved it had no benefit.

A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed records for 112,000 patients who had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), a pacemaker-like device that corrects heartbeat irregularities. In 22.5 percent of the cases, researchers found no medical evidence to support installing the devices.

Doctors are people we are supposed to trust, but findings like this make it difficult to do so. Being diligent and involved in the medical process is important in order to ensure the correct care is being administered.

Don’t take a doctor’s word as the final say. Get second opinions from other doctors and do your own research before agreeing to any major, or even minor, procedures. It could mean the difference between losing money or even losing your life, in extreme cases.


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