Every year, tens of thousands of patients undergo surgery that they do not actually need. Patients around the country need to reconsider the unconditional trust they place in their doctors, especially when facing an operation. Unnecessary surgeries may account for up to 20% of all operations in some specialties, including a wide range of cardiac procedures, as well as many spinal surgeries. Other common examples of unnecessary surgeries include knee replacements, hysterectomies, and cesarean sections.
A 1974 congressional report estimated that 2.4 million surgeries each year are unnecessary-12,000 of which result in fatalities. Lucian Leape, a former surgeon and professor at the Harvard School of Public health, states that despite the persistence of this problem, there has not been a single movement to address it. Private insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid continue to spend billions each year on unnecessary operations, draining heath care dollars that could go to far better use. For example, in 2011 an estimated 10% of spinal fusions paid for by Medicare were unnecessary, either because no medical basis existed for them, or because doctors failed to consider non-surgical alternatives. This amounts to $157 million that Medicare spent on unnecessary spinal fusions.
Perhaps the problem does not lie solely with the doctors, but lies deep in the framework of the health care industry. For many doctors, their income hinges largely on the amount of surgeries they perform and the revenues those procedures generate. Furthermore, this number can influence the amount of privileges a doctor receives at certain hospitals. Regardless of a doctor’s influence to perform an unnecessary surgery, it is important to protect yourself from becoming a victim. Patty Skolnik, founder of Citizens for Patient Safety, provides these words of advice, “Research your doctor, research the procedure, ask questions, including the most important one: ‘What will happen if I don’t get this done?'”