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How common are unnecessary surgeries?

Every medical doctor has to take the Hippocratic Oath as part of becoming a practicing physician. That oath requires that they promise to treat all people, regardless of their background or the nature of the medical condition. It also requires that doctors do no harm first and foremost.

Unfortunately, some doctors, in their hubris or attempt to maximize profits, may ignore the important rule of first doing no harm by leaping to dangerous and aggressive medical interventions. A surgery costs tens of thousands of dollars and certainly confers more bragging rights to the physician performing the procedure than basic medical testing or drug administration.

However, the operation also carries significant risk. Doctors should seek out less-invasive options before turning to potentially deadly medical solutions. Despite the importance of minimizing interventions, thousands of unnecessary surgeries take place in the United States every year. How common are unnecessary surgical operations?

It is hard to track the prevalence of unnecessary surgeries

When discussing unnecessary surgeries, it is important to differentiate between elective surgeries that people seek out of their own volition and medical procedures that were not necessary or were not the appropriate treatment for a patient’s condition.

Researchers typically exclude voluntary medical procedures, like cosmetic surgery, when discussing the prevalence of unnecessary surgery. Of course, actually establishing how many procedures are unnecessary can be quite difficult because physicians are unlikely to admit they made the wrong decision.

A comprehensive review of years of surgical records indicates that between 10% and 20% of surgeries performed in the United States are unnecessary. For example, doctors may rush into certain surgeries when other treatments could achieve the same results with less risk of complication. Unfortunately for some of the patients who undergo unnecessary surgery, their recovery will not be quick and simple because they will experience complications.

What can patients do after unnecessary surgery?

If you realize only after undergoing a medical procedure that a less-invasive option would have offered similar medical benefits or presented fewer risks for complications, you may start to question your doctor’s decision making in your case.

Patients who believe their doctor made the wrong decision can start to assert themselves by asking for copies of their medical records and seeking a second opinion. If another physician looks over your records and states that most competent physicians would have recommended a different treatment, then the surgery may have been unnecessary and could potentially constitute medical malpractice.

Holding physicians accountable when they put prestige or money ahead of a patient’s best interests through unnecessary surgeries can change their practices and compensate you.