There’s an old saying that sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. That’s especially true when the cure isn’t the right one, or wasn’t needed at all. Sometimes a treatment for a medical condition can cause more harm than good.
Imagine going to see someone about back pain and being told you have to undergo painful and invasive spinal surgery. You get the operation and spend weeks in rehab, and months in addition to that working on your recovery and trying to get back to normal. Then you find out that you didn’t need surgery at all — a few sessions with a physical therapist would have set you right. The surgery was more cure than you actually needed.
When a physician, surgeon, nurse practitioner, or other medical provider orders treatments that you don’t actually need and you suffer harm as a result, that may be an act of medical malpractice. Medical providers have a duty to provide reasonable care within the standards of their profession and your diagnosed medical condition. That may include choosing non-invasive treatment options over invasive ones when the non-invasive treatment will be just as effective and cause less harm.
Kaiser Health News reported in 2011 that a study showed nearly $7 billion spent every year on unnecessary tests and treatments, and Scientific American reported in 2013 that more than two dozen medical societies recommended curbing the overuse of 130 types of screenings, tests, and treatments that are unnecessary and may ultimately cause harm.
Common Forms of Unnecessary Treatment
Any form of treatment you receive could potentially be unnecessary, but certain forms tend to be more common. Some of the ones most often seen include:
- Urinary Catheters — The use of urinary catheters comes with a risk of painful urinary tract infection, but that risk is preventable if catheters are used only when necessary and medical staff have better training with the use and removal of catheters. The problem of catheter-associated UTI had become so common by 2008 that Medicare stopped paying for treatment of these infections, and a nationwide effort has been in place to reduce the use of urinary catheters by 50 percent by this year. Infections can be very serious for hospital or nursing home patients with vulnerable immune systems.
- Stents — The use of stents has been identified by leading medical societies as among the most overused procedures in the nation, and media coverage in Bloomberg and The New Yorker has indicated that many physicians may be choosing to use stents because the procedure is a money-maker. Stents are mesh tubes used to get blood flowing through arteries that are clogged or blocked. However, that may not be necessary in people with chronic, long-term blockages, for whom aspirin therapy or cholesterol drugs may be just as effective.
- Tracheotomy — Unnecessary tracheotomies made the news in Chicago in 2013 when federal agents raided an area hospital and arrested the owner and several doctors after it was discovered the hospital was drugging patients until they couldn’t breathe and then using that as an excuse to perform the procedure, which involves cutting a hole in the patient’s neck to create an airway. According to a Sun-Times article, the hospital was getting up to $160,000 per unnecessary tracheotomy for the procedure and the hospital stay. Tracheotomies can pose serious risks to patients, including infection, air getting trapped in the lungs or chest, nerve damage, windpipe damage, airway collapse, and blood clots.
- Back Surgery — Spinal fusion is a rapidly growing form of treatment for back pain, with the number of procedures increasing by 70 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to a 2014 CBS News investigation. But the procedure also is somewhat controversial because many times it may be performed unnecessarily. Spinal fusion involves using a metal rod and screws to fuse vertebrae. It’s a painful procedure with a lengthy recovery time, and risks include paralysis, infection, narrowing of the spinal column, and other serious complications.
- Hysterectomy — A hysterectomy is a serious procedure that renders a woman infertile, and in younger women is associated with higher risks of heart attack, urinary tract problems, sexual dysfunction, depression, and hormone deficiencies. The National Women’s Health Network suggests that anywhere from 10 percent to 90 percent of hysterectomies performed in the United States may be unnecessary.
- Knee Replacement — Knee replacements are painful and expensive procedures that require lengthy recovery and rehabilitation. A 2014 study reported in Healthline News suggested as many as one-third of knee replacements for arthritis are unnecessary or that the patients are not good candidates.
- Cesarean Section — Unnecessary c-section births can cause harm to the mother or the baby if complications arise during the surgery.
- X-Rays, CT Scans, or MRIs — Imaging tests often may be used for conditions that will go away on their own, creating unnecessary expense and radiation exposure and often leading to unnecessary surgery.
- Antibiotics — Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. When they’re prescribed for a viral illness such as influenza, they won’t treat the illness. Overuse of antibiotics is associated with the rise of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that can cause serious illness, such as MRSA.
Consequences of Unnecessary Treatments
The effects of an unnecessary treatment are highly individualized and depend upon the nature of the treatment, the underlying medical condition, and other factors. Generally speaking, unnecessary treatments may result in needless pain and recovery time, infections, scarring or disfigurement, and long-term damage to your health. You also may experience emotional trauma or depression after undergoing an unnecessary surgery or other medical procedure.
How a Lawyer Can Help
When you’re harmed by unnecessary surgeries, procedures, or treatments resulting from negligence or intentional actions by your health provider, you may want to consider speaking to a lawyer about a medical malpractice claim. Our experienced medical negligence lawyers can walk through the circumstances of your unnecessary treatment with you and discuss your options for pursuing a claim for compensation.
If you decide to pursue a claim, you may be able to recover your medical expenses related to the unnecessary treatment and any additional treatment you had to undergo because of the malpractice. You also may be able to recover lost wages if you had to take time away from work or if you’ve been disabled because of the malpractice. Further compensation may be available for your pain and suffering because of the malpractice.