Cardiac Stents One of Most Overused Medical Procedures

Malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report on several recent studies and news articles highlighting the massive overuse of cardiac stents in the United States. Over seven million Americans have been implanted with stents in the past decade, costing them and the healthcare system more than $110 billion.

Stents are implanted around the heart to prop open heart attack patients’ arteries and restore blood flow. About half of those implanted with stents use them for this purpose, which is incredibly effective and usually very necessary. The other half, however, are electing to have the procedure done based on their doctors’ recommendations, despite being in overall stable health.

There have been several widely-publicized scandals regarding the overuse of stents, largely focusing on catastrophic premature deaths and certain doctors performing stent surgeries in astronomical numbers. The medical devices are not inherently bad; they are partly responsible for the drastic decrease in cardiovascular disease deaths over the last forty years or so, and, nationwide, stents are required to be implanted in heart attack patients within 90 minutes of their ER arrival.

The benefit of stents in cardiac arrest patients is irrefutable. Their benefits in stable patients with chronic heart disease, however, are far less known. Unfortunately, this has not stopped physicians from prescribing them over less dangerous treatments, such as aspirin, beta blockers and other medications, which are just as effective.

Health care reformers and the public are now voicing their concern about stent overuse and the motives behind it. A heart specialist in Louisiana recently put a face on the issue when he was convicted of 51 counts of billing for medically unnecessary surgeries and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Though one stent can save a life, several stents do not equate to better results. One patient, Bruce Peterson, went to see a cardiologist for chest pain and subsequently implanted with 21 coronary stents, one of which tore a blood vessel. His physician put five stents in a single artery, which weakened his heart and exposed him to severe complications that ultimately took his life.

His doctor was fined just $10,000 for Peterson’s death, along with two years of oversight. While it is important not to demonize outright all cardiologists who recommend more than one stent, it is equally important for patients to ask physicians why exactly they believe what they’re doing is right. There are some doctors who over-treat patients in pursuit of profits – the Louisiana cardiologist, for one, enjoyed a $6 million income in 2003 thanks to the stent procedures. He now earns $5 dollars per month as a supervisor of his prison’s cleaning crew.

As a result of his malpractice, some of his patients require regular blood transfusions; others have needed remedial surgeries, or suffered heart attacks and strokes. Several died, after which their families sued him and the two Lafayette hospitals where he worked, obtaining a $15.1 million class-action settlement. The man himself was getting about $2,600 per stent, and used to boast that he could implant ten a day. At any one time he would have between 6,000 and 7,000 patients under his care. He would schedule 40 appointments in a two-hour period, sometimes recommending they undergo stent surgery, literally, on his way out the door.

Another cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, which is touted as the premier heart center in the U.S., recently had his assets seized by the federal government in a stent investigation. A cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA estimated that unnecessary stents are costing the American health care system about $2.4 billion per year. This is subjecting patients to an array of life-threatening complications, including infections, blockages from coronary scar tissue, bleeding, and blood clots. In 2012 alone, 773 people died from cardiac stents, according to data reported to the FDA – 71% higher than in 2008.

Coronary stent attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn patients with chronic heart disease that their stent procedures may have been unnecessary. Over 1,500 patients have received letters from hospitals since 2010 informing them of this, leading to a significant increase in lawsuits and malpractice settlements. If you or a loved one was implanted with cardiac stents that you believe was not medically necessary, contact one of our skilled malpractice lawyers today for a free legal consultation.

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