In a recent Bloomberg analysis, it was determined that the number of deaths associated with the implantation of cardiac stents has risen as statistics suggest doctors are overusing the stents. The article actually opened up telling the story of Bruce Petersen, a Texas patient. Mr. Peterson’s cardiologist put 21 coronary stents in his chest over an eight month period, and a complaint was filed alleging those were unneeded stents which ultimately weakened Mr. Peterson’s heart and exposed him to complications including clots, blockages and ultimately cost him his life.
The article indicated that implants have been used to prop open arteries of approximately 7 million Americans in the last decade at a cost of more than $110 billion. It is estimated there are about 700,000 stent procedures performed in United States annually. About half of those are used when patients are in immediate need of medical intervention to restore blood flow during an acute coronary event. The other half are being used an elective manner for patients who are in stable condition. This is the area that investigators are focusing on to determine if these are unnecessary and possibly fraudulent procedures.
The article indicated that cardiologists get paid less than $250 to talk about stent risks and alternative measures to patients, but if they insert the stent doctors paid almost $1000. Thus there is a financial incentive to do the procedure as opposed to just talking about it. Of course there are medical risks associated with these elective procedures, and doing unnecessary elective stent implantation exposes patients to unnecessary dangers and risks. One researcher suggested that two out of three of the elective step procedures (or more than 200,000 procedures a year) are unnecessary. This translates into a cost to the United States healthcare system approximately $2.4 billion a year.