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Unnecessary Medical Procedures More Common Than You Think

Most of us trust our doctors to tell us the right things to do to protect our health. However, did you know that since 2005 more than 1,000 doctors have made payments to settle patient claims that they underwent unnecessary and sometimes life-altering surgical or other medical procedures? Scary, but true. You don't have to take my word for it, either; the USA Today recently highlighted the story of 22-year-old Jonathan Stelly, who had a pacemaker placed in his body after his doctor told him he wouldn't live past 30 without it.

Stelly's Story and the Frightening Trend of Unnecessary Surgical Procedures

Stelly was a semi-professional baseball player when he came to his doctor's office complaining of fainting spells. The doctor's office called with some shocking news; Stelly needed a pacemaker or he wouldn't live much longer. Stelly also knew that a pacemaker would spell the end of his baseball career, but the choice between living and dying prompted him to trust the cardiologist and undergo the surgery. Sadly, Stelly later found out that the cardiologist who performed the surgery, Dr. Mehmood Patel, was sent to prison for dozens of billings to Medicare for unnecessary heart procedures. Stelly went on to visit several other heart doctors to get second and third opinions and discovered, much to his dismay, that he needed blood pressure medication but not a pacemaker. Sadly, his baseball career was over and although doctors turned off the pacemaker years ago, Stelly will never get back his beloved game.

Survey Finds Tens of Thousands of Unnecessary Surgeries Are Performed Each Year

A USA Today review of government reports recently found that tens of thousands of times each year unnecessary procedures are performed. Not all those procedures are performed in such an egregious way as with Dr. Patel; other times it is because of the lack of experience and training of doctors who can't recognize when a surgical procedure can be avoided. Some estimates suggest that 10-20% of surgical procedures in some practices may be unnecessary including cardiac procedures, cesarean sections, knee replacements, hysterectomies and colonoscopies. Additionally, these unnecessary procedures cost consumers and taxpayers when Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance companies pay. Medical malpractice cases constitute no more than a fraction of the cases of unnecessary surgeries, so there is no way to know the exact number of patients who have received unnecessary surgeries. These surgeries often have life-altering consequences, making it a topic that must be addressed.

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