There are always risks associated with surgery. Even a minor surgery may have risks of infection, anesthesia errors, and scarring. A surgery that a patient later finds out was unnecessary can be especially harmful. A patient may be exposed to the risks of surgery without any clear benefit, and then receive an expensive bill from the surgeon.
When a doctor performs unnecessary surgery, it may be medical malpractice. Medical malpractice claims allow an injury victim to recover damages from a negligent doctor or hospital. A malpractice award can provide compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.
Many victims of unnecessary surgery fail to come forward after their mistreatment because they are not sure if the doctor committed malpractice. If you were treated unnecessarily or believe the doctor made a misdiagnosis resulting in surgery that wasn’t necessary, talk to an experienced medical malpractice law firm about your case.
Unnecessary Surgical Operations
An unnecessary surgical operation may involve a misdiagnosis or incorrect medical diagnosis. A surgery may also not be necessary if there are other treatment options that may be more advisable under the circumstances. Unnecessary surgical operations can also come from diagnostic errors that give doctors incorrect information about the patient’s physical condition.
According to one study, “the definition of “unnecessary surgery” has never been made very precise.” An unnecessary surgery can be a surgery that is incorrect for the patient, fails to properly treat their condition, or is not in the patient’s best interests. Examples of unnecessary surgery may include:
- A dentist claims that a patient needs a root canal because the dentist is in financial trouble and needs to get money for more procedures, even if the patient does not need a root canal.
- A surgeon sees evidence of a tumor in a patient after imaging scans and recommends surgery. However, the imaging scans are of a different patient and the doctor was reviewing the wrong file.
- A doctor fails to keep up with developing medical information and is not aware of a commonly available medication or treatment option that doctors use instead of surgery.
- A surgeon fails to follow proper surgical procedures and amputates a patient’s left leg instead of the right leg, leaving the true medical condition untreated while unnecessarily amputating a healthy limb.
Just because another doctor would have made a different recommendation does not necessarily mean that a surgery is not necessary. Doctors can come up with different differential diagnoses or make different treatment plans. However, when a doctor deviates from the standards of care of other medical professionals in a similar situation, that may indicate medical malpractice.
How Can You Avoid Surgery That Is Not Necessary?
It can be difficult to know when a surgical procedure is necessary, advisable, or unnecessary. Patients rely on the training, education, and experience of medical professionals to make the right diagnosis and propose the proper treatment. If a doctor recommends surgery, it is generally because the signs, symptoms, diagnostics, and patient history all point to surgery.
However, if the doctor deviates from the standards of medical care, it may lead to recommending an unnecessary surgery. How is a common patient supposed to know when the doctor makes a diagnostic or treatment error? A patient may be able to get a second opinion before undergoing medical treatment. Getting a second opinion can be harder than it seems.
Your insurance provider may not provide reimbursement for an additional diagnosis after your primary doctor recommends surgery. This means you may have to end up paying thousands of dollars just to get another opinion about whether or not surgery is the best option. Because of the high cost of medical care, many people fail to get a second opinion because they cannot afford to.
How Common are Unnecessary Surgeries?
Unnecessary medical procedures may be more common than most patients are aware. According to a story in USA Today, data shows that 10% to 20% of some common surgeries are done unnecessarily. Some specialties may involve higher rates of unnecessary procedures, including:
- Cardiac procedures
- Stent surgery
- Pacemaker implants
- Spinal surgeries
- Knee replacements
- Cesarean sections
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), after reviewing records for 111,707 patients who had pacemaker-like devices implanted, in more than 22% of the cases, researchers found no medical evidence to support implanting the cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs). Contrary to medical guidelines, ICD therapy was not recommended for patients with a new diagnosis of heart failure. However, physicians routinely recommended primary prevention ICD implants.
According to a survey by researchers at Johns Hopkins, doctors say that unneeded medical care is common. A survey of more than 2,000 doctors found that overtreatment is common, in part, driven by patient demand and profit motives. These doctors believed 15% to 30% of medical care is not needed. These unnecessary medical services can also cost more than $200 billion in excess spending, increasing health care costs and wasting limited health care resources.
Reasons cited for unnecessary procedures included profit motive and difficulty accessing prior medical records. Doctors responded that potential solutions for eliminating unnecessary medical procedures included training for appropriate care and more evidence-based practice guidelines. The Johns Hopkins study participants reported that unnecessary medical care included:
- Unnecessary prescription medications (22%)
- Unnecessary medical tests (25%)
- Unnecessary medical procedures (11%)
- Overall unnecessary medical care (21%)
Why Doctors Push Unnecessary Surgery
Given the unnecessary risks of a surgery that is not needed, why would doctors continue to perform procedures that are not necessary? There are a few reasons why doctors may push a patient towards a medical procedure that is less than beneficial. In an editorial published in BioMed Central, one of the answers is that surgeons “are incentivized to perform surgical procedures, either for financial gain, renown, or both.”
Another possible reason why doctors perform unneeded procedures is because they default to what other doctors are doing in their community. However, an automatic response to surgery does not take into account the individual patient. Doctors should assess the risks and benefits of any procedure based on the individual patient involved.
According to the Alliance of Community Health Plans, “Patients identified as potentially frail receive additional evaluation during a “surgical pause.” The surgical pause provides clinicians an opportunity to take a step back, gather more information, talk with the patient and ensure that the care plan is truly patient-centered.”
Improper Surgeries and Never-Events
A “never-event” is a medical error that “never” should have happened and indicates medical negligence. Despite the name, never-events occur much more often than most people realize, putting patients at risk of serious injury, harm, or death. According to the National Quality Forum (NQF) there are 28 medical events which are classified as “never events,” including surgical never events like:
- Surgery performed on the wrong body part
- Surgery performed on the wrong patient
- Wrong surgical procedure performed on a patient
The wrong surgery performed on a patient is a never event. These include “serious reportable events,” which include obvious and unacceptable errors. Improper surgeries are not only harmful, they are preventable. An unnecessary surgery generally does not occur without medical negligence, or worse, intentional fraud.
Hospital Response to Unnecessary Medical Procedures
If a hospital learns that a patient’s medical procedure was not necessary, they should take action. A responsible approach to responding to hospital mistakes involves immediately taking action to make the patient aware. According to a patient safety group, responding to never-events includes:
- Apologizing to the patient and family
- Waiving medical costs related to the never-events
- Reporting the event to an external agency
- Conducting a root-cause analysis of how and why the event occurred
- Interviewing patients and families to gather evidence
- Informing the patient and family of any actions the hospital will take to prevent future recurrences
Instead, what often happens is silence. The patient may never hear about the medical error. The doctor or hospital may be unaware of the mistake. In some cases, even when the doctor is aware they performed an unnecessary surgery, they will fail to do anything about it. Even if the patient questions the doctor, the hospital may deny any wrongdoing, leaving the patient having to deal with their injuries on their own, unless they seek out medical malpractice guidance.
Lack of Informed Consent for Surgery
Another type of improper surgery that may be medical malpractice involves a lack of informed consent for surgery. In most cases, a doctor is required to get the informed consent of a patient before performing a surgical procedure. Informed consent allows the patient to understand the risks and benefits of surgery to make the best choice for their medical care. Informed consent involves providing the patient with necessary information about:
- Risks of the procedure
- Benefits of surgery
- Side effects and possible complications
- Reasonable alternatives to surgery
- Consequences of declining surgery
If a patient is not given the necessary information before surgery or the patient does not consent and the surgeon operates anyway, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice by performing surgery without informed consent. According to the Joint Commission, there were a number of problems with the way doctors get informed consent, including:
- A lack of basic information
- Ineffective doctor-patient communication
- Lack of shared decision-making
- Lack of consideration of the patient’s health literacy
- Lack of consideration of cultural issues
Another problem with informed consent, which overlaps with unnecessary surgical procedures, is coercion. Doctors may unduly influence patients or coerce them, which can impair consent. Doctors may simply tell the patient to sign the waiver, which does not allow the patient to understand that they have the opportunity to ask questions or get information.
According to a report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Coercion occurs when an overt threat of harm is intentionally presented by one person to another in order to obtain compliance. Undue influence, by contrast, occurs through an offer of an excessive, unwarranted, inappropriate or improper reward or other overture in order to obtain compliance.”
Risks of Surgery and Unnecessary Treatment
An unnecessary surgery involves more than just expensive medical care that should never have happened. Any surgery comes along with the risk of injury or harm. There are many patients who go in for a “minor” procedure only to have complications occur. These complications can cause additional pain, scarring, disfigurement, brain damage, or be fatal. Risks of surgery include:
- Bleeding requiring blood transfusion
- Nerve injury
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
- Allergic reactions
The risks of surgery may be higher for vulnerable patients, including older Americans. In a congressional meeting by the Special Committee on Aging, the committee addressed the “double-edged threat of unnecessary surgery.” According to the committee, senior citizens undergo 80% more surgeries than the rest of the population. Along with the increased numbers of surgical operations, the elderly have double the death rate associated with surgery.
In one investigation, the committee found that 30% to 50% of all cardiac pacemaker implant surgeries were unnecessary. Another common heart surgery, a coronary artery bypass, was found to be commonly performed, elective, very expensive, and had “no overall benefit” compared to less risky procedures. However, this surgery increased by almost 1,000% in the 1970s.
Talk to a Medical Malpractice Lawyer About Your Case
Confronting unnecessary surgery is difficult. You may feel like you are to blame because you didn’t speak up sooner. Do not blame yourself because of a doctor’s negligence. Medical professionals are supposed to be professional. When doctors are not professional, it can injure patients and hurt their families. If you underwent surgery when it wasn’t necessary, you may be able to claim compensation for your losses.
Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney for advice about what you can do to recover compensation, medical bills, and loss of income after an unneeded surgery injury. Your surgeon may be liable for damages caused by failing to provide proper medical care. Call experienced medical malpractice attorneys who can look at your case, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against a surgeon. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.