Report: Hospitals Performed 100,000 Unnecessary Procedures in 2020

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Woman with a doctor
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U.S. hospitals performed more than 100,000 unnecessary procedures between March and December 2020, according to an analysis of Medicare claims data.

The Lown Institute, a health care think tank, says these procedures were performed at a time when COVID-19 was raging and many public institutions were closed for business. In a press release, Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, says:

“You couldn’t go into your local coffee shop, but hospitals brought people in for all kinds of unnecessary procedures. The fact that a pandemic barely slowed things down shows just how deeply entrenched overuse is in American healthcare.”

The institute says the most performed but unnecessary procedures included coronary stents for stable heart disease and spinal fusions for low-back pain. It deems such procedures — and six others performed regularly during the period — to be of “low value.” In other words, they offer little or no clinical benefit and may do more harm than good.

The Lown Institute cited eight excessively performed, low-value procedures:

  • Stents for stable coronary disease: 45,176
  • Vertebroplasty for osteoporosis: 16,553
  • Hysterectomy for benign disease: 14,455
  • Spinal fusion for back pain: 13,541
  • Inferior vena cava filter: 9,595
  • Carotid endarterectomy: 3,667
  • Renal stent: 1,891
  • Knee arthroscopy: 1,596

The institute found that the use of unnecessary procedures even extends to some hospitals with national reputations.

For example, the following all had high rates of coronary stent procedures meeting the criteria for overuse:

  • Cleveland Clinic in Ohio: 44%
  • Houston Methodist Hospital: 44%
  • Mount Sinai Hospital in New York: 42%
  • Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis: 42%

Saini, a cardiologist, says he is particularly frustrated that, overall, 1 in 5 coronary-stent procedures performed nationally during the period met the criteria for overuse. According to Saini:

“We’ve known for over a decade that we shouldn’t be putting so many stents into patients with stable coronary disease, but we do it anyway.”

For more about Medicare, check out “Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs.”

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