How a Second Opinion Could Save You from an Unnecessary Surgery

As patients, most of us overwhelmingly trust our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. At times, we literally put our lives in their hands. We trust they will make good decisions regarding our health and well-being. However, what if some doctors are a little too eager for a patient to undergo extensive surgery?

An article from 1985 in Health Letter, a publication of Public Citizen, found that between 1971 and 1978, coronary bypass surgeries performed on men who were 65-years-old and older rose by a shocking 955 percent. The bypass surgery rate for younger people also increased significantly. At the time, the cost for a coronary bypass surgery was around $20,000, so for every 100 patients who underwent the extensive operation, about $1.4 million was spent in medical expenses, some of which was completely unnecessary.

At the time, Senate Aging Committee Republican John Heinz from Pennsylvania noted that “Americans of all ages are wheeled into operating rooms at a greater annual rate than in any other place in the world and the overall surgery rate in this country has increased four times faster in the past decade than the growth in population.” While this could be contributed to any number of factors, it is still an alarming increase.

During the same period, Dr. John Wennberg from Dartmouth Medical School analyzed regional data he had collected on prostatectomies. He compared the outcome of the surgery in areas where the operation was least popular to areas where the surgery was most often performed. Wennberg estimated that thousands of lives could be saved if the lower prostatectomy rate was the prevailing rate nationwide.

Additionally, a study done in Colorado at the time found that for every 10 percent “squeeze” on doctors’ incomes from health insurance companies, there was a significant rise in the number of operations performed per patient, the complexity of services given to patients from doctors, and the number of lab tests ordered by doctors. One New Jersey hospital administrator was even found to have been encouraging doctors who performed few cesarean deliveries to consider doing more of them as it would be more profitable for the hospital.

It is a reasonable conclusion to say that if patients sought a second opinion before consenting to undergo surgery, there would be fewer fatalities and billions of dollars spent less on healthcare. Indeed, investigations of the subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee reported, at the time, that an estimated $4 billion was being sent on 2.4 million unnecessary operations, at the cost of about 11,900 lives.

Surgical injury in Florida and throughout the United States is a serious concern and patients have the right to a second opinion if that is what they chose to do. It is without a doubt awkward to contradict or question your doctor and their motives. However, doing so can potentially save you from paying medical expenses and suffering possible complications, or even serious injury, that could result from an unnecessary procedure. It is a good idea to consult with another doctor, one who isn’t at the same hospital or facility as your current one, for a second opinion on your medical condition. If you aren’t sure where to go, ask local medical societies or a nearby medical school for the names of doctors they would recommend treating your particular illness or injury.