What is unnecessary surgery, and why is it still happening?

Your Kentucky health care provider has reviewed all your symptoms and given you a diagnosis. Now, he is suggesting that your best treatment option is a surgical procedure. While you are somewhat anxious about scheduling it, he has assured you that, weighed against your other treatment options, this is the course of action most likely to restore your health. But is it?

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are many surgical procedures that have been proven less effective than other treatment methods, yet doctors continue to recommend them. In many cases, the procedures have been proven to have little or no benefit at all, or to create an unjustified risk to the patient. Even so, such surgeries are often labeled "routine," and are performed regularly. 

You are probably aware that medication must undergo many controlled trials that test for safety and feasibility, and then the manufacturers must submit the evidence to the FDA for approval before making the drug available. Surgical procedures do not have oversight from the FDA, however, and the effects of a procedure may not even be thoroughly studied to ensure that it is a viable option.

One study conducted by members of the Finnish Arthroscopy Association discovered that a knee surgery performed about 700,000 times each year in the United States actually has no patient benefit at all. The results of this study, which was published in 2013, have had no impact on the number of surgeries since then.

Why do health care providers continue to schedule these surgeries, then? One reason may be that your doctor has been trained that this is a good option, and either he has never been told otherwise, or he prefers to stick with his preconceived ideas in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Another reason is that doctors sometimes receive incentives to opt for certain procedures. This does not necessarily mean that your doctor has been given money to convince you to undergo this surgery. He may want to be established in a specialized field through the number of successfully completed procedures, or enjoy other recognition.

Although this information may lead you to investigate any given procedure further, it is not intended as medical or legal advice.

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