I rarely read USA Today except for the headlines when standing in line for coffee or when staying in a hotel and it ends up at my door. This time it is the hotel excuse but I admit I might have actually paid for a copy for this series. When Doctors Make You Sick is a series on people who think they were receiving but it turns out their doctor (as we say in health care) was Dr Iatros (meaning that the treatment caused actual harm, known as iatrogenic illness). The series now has 10 installments and range from hospital acquired infections to today’s article on doctors who perform unnecessary surgery. The article makes some observations that are pretty damning:

Tens of thousands of times each year, patients are wheeled into the nation’s operating rooms for surgery that isn’t necessary, a USA TODAY review of government records and medical databases finds.Public attention has been limited to a few sensational cases, typically involving doctors who put cardiac stents in patients who didn’t need them. In fact, unnecessary surgeries might account for 10% to 20% of all operations in some specialties, including a wide range of cardiac procedures — not only stents, but also angioplasty and pacemaker implants — as well as many spinal surgeries. Knee replacements, hysterectomies, and cesarean sections are among the other surgical procedures performed more often than needed, according to a review of in-depth studies and data generated by both government and academic sources.

And why are these procedures being done? Per USA Today, the answer is MONEY!

Who are these doctors?

“I think there are a very small percent of doctors who are crooked, maybe 1 or 2%,” says John Santa, a physician and former health system administrator who became director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center in 2008.

“I think there’s a higher percentage who are not well trained or not competent” to determine when surgery is necessary, Santa says. “Then you have a big group who are more businessmen than medical professionals — doctors who look at those gray cases and say, ‘Well, I have enough here to justify surgery, so I’m going to do it.'”

The pressures are real. Doctors’ income can hinge largely on the number of surgeries they do — and the revenue those procedures generate. Those numbers also can determine whether doctors get privileges at certain hospitals or membership in top practices.

There’s no way to know what portion of unnecessary surgeries are related to these more subtle pressures, as opposed to poor training or fraud. Researchers simply know they’re happening.

USA Today offers a list of commonly over recommended procedures that is worth looking at. Bottom line, spending more on health care has not been proven to improve our health as a nation and in fact may contribute to our poor health. The series is worth a look.

 

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