Worries about the stent procedures performed by a Cleveland area doctor were first raised by staff at one of the hospitals where he worked. The cardiologist, they told hospital leaders, was not performing stent procedures the same way that other physicians were.
The hospital, St. John Medical Center, called in an outside expert. According to newspaper accounts, the expert reviewed 30 of the doctor’s cases and found that in 23 of them, the patients received unnecessary stents. The hospital notified patients, and other hospitals began reviewing their cases. The FBI seized files, financial information and other records from the doctor’s office.
Patients and others who heard about the allegations must have wondered how something like this could happen. Unfortunately, unnecessary stent procedures happen more often than any of us like to think.
Unnecessary stent procedures performed in other states
Stents are small mesh tubes that are placed in narrow or weak arteries to help restore or improve blood flow. Accusations of the unnecessary use of these and other heart procedures are not uncommon in the United States.
- In Maryland, a cardiologist was accused of performing hundreds of unnecessary stent procedures. The cardiologist’s license was revoked. He, the hospital and other doctors are now facing
medical malpractice claims totaling millions of dollars.
- In Florida, a nurse at a medical center owned by hospital giant HCA reported that a doctor had performed heart procedures on patients who did not need them, according to The New York Times, which reported on widespread allegations of unnecessary heart procedures at some of the company’s hospitals.
- In Tennessee, a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2011 accused a cardiologist and two hospitals of fraudulent billing and overusing medical procedures, including stents.
Medical studies, including a 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, have shown that stents are overused. According to a 2011 study in the journal, of 144,000 nonemergency catheterizations, half were found to be appropriate. Another 38 percent were uncertain and 12 percent were inappropriate, ProPublica reported. Nonemergency catheterizations usually involve using stents and tiny balloons to clear blocked arteries.
Patients with unnecessary stents at risk for complications
Stents can be life savers when they are needed, and they are a financial benefit for doctors and hospitals. But one cardiologist said the U.S. medical system is addicted to the revenue that unnecessary heart procedures create. For patients who receive unnecessary stents or other heart procedures, the medical community’s gain comes with the risk of serious complications or even
In the Florida HCA case, for example, a woman with no significant heart disease went into cardiac arrest after a vessel was cut by a cardiologist who was inserting a stent. The New York Times reported that the woman was hospitalized for several days.
In the Cleveland area case, it’s unclear whether patients who received unnecessary stents suffered any complications. At least one patient, a Cleveland man, has filed a medical malpractice claim. Others may follow as they grapple with the abuse they have suffered in our nation’s medical system.