Doctors Perform Thousands of Unnecessary Surgeries: Are You Getting One of Them?



If your physician tells you that you need surgery, unless it is an emergency, you should always get a second opinion first.

In many cases, you may find that you don’t need surgery after all, saving not only a considerable amount of money but also avoiding the risks that any surgery carries. In fact, according to a USA Today review of government records and medical databases, tens of thousands of patients undergo unnecessary surgery each and every year! And according to some experts, that number may actually be in the millions. According to USA Today:

“’It’s a very serious issue and there really hasn’t been a movement to address it,’ says Lucian Leape, a former surgeon and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Leape, a renowned patient safety expert. He began studying unnecessary surgery after a 1974 congressional report estimated that there were 2.4 million cases a year, killing nearly 12,000 patients. Leape’s take today? “Things haven’t changed very much.’”

Far more often, however, are the physicians who perform unnecessary surgeries out of a lack of training in less-invasive alternatives. Many health care providers may believe that surgery is the only answer, even when the success rates are minimal and better non-surgical treatment options exist. Then there are those providers who perform the surgery simply because the profit will increase their income, and they can justify them as medically ‘necessary.’ USA Today reported:

John Santa, a physician and former health system administrator who became director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center in 2008 stated;

“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 just going to do it.”

Here is a list of some of the most performed unnecessary surgeries:

Spinal Fusion Back Surgery

If you have low back pain and see different specialists you will get different tests: rheumatologists will order blood tests, neurologists will order nerve impulse tests, and surgeons will order MRIs and CT scans. But no matter what tests you get, you’ll probably end up with a spinal fusion because it’s one of the “more lucrative procedures in medicine,” author Shannon Brownlee says – even though the best success rate for spinal fusions is only 25 percent! According to one review, more than 17 percent of patients told they needed spinal surgery actually showed no abnormal neurological or radiographic findings that would require surgery.

Knee and Hip Replacement, and Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Patients who were informed about joint replacements and alternative methods of treatment had 26 percent fewer hip replacements and 38 percent fewer knee replacements than those who did not. Arthroscopic knee surgery for osteoarthritis is also one of the most unnecessary surgeries performed today, as it works no better than a placebo surgery.

Proof of this is a double-blind placebo-controlled multi-center (including Harvard’s Mass General Hospital) study published in one of the most well-respected medical journals on the planet, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) over 10 years ago.

Research has also shown arthroscopic knee surgery works no better than placebo surgery, and when comparing treatments for knee pain, non-invasive therapies were found to be just as effective as surgery, and at a significantly reduced cost and risk. Yet another study showed exercise can be just as effective as surgery for people with chronic pain in the front part of their knee, known as chronic patellofemoral syndrome (PFPS), which is also frequently treated unnecessarily with arthroscopic surgery.

It’s Your Body: Take Control of Your Health

As much as possible, be proactive in using a healthy lifestyle to support and protect your health and if injury does occur, use non-invasive methods of therapy such as chiropractic care, massage therapy and rehabilitation that will allow your body to heal itself before considering the need for unnecessary surgery, drugs or other invasive medical procedures.



USA Today June 20, 2013

2 New England Journal of Medicine March 18, 2013

3 BMC Medicine December 13, 2007, 5:38