Doctors Under Fire for Performing Unnecessary Stent Procedures

As heart procedures go, stents are relatively simple. But increasingly, the news is full of reports of doctors committing medical malpractice by performing the procedure unnecessarily.

In November of this year, a physician in Maryland was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for performing unnecessary stent operations. In 2009, a Louisiana doctor received a ten-year sentence under similar allegations. Other cardiologists in Maryland and Pennsylvania have been the targets of civil suits by patients claiming that they received the wire mesh implants even though they didn’t need them.

When should a stent procedure be used? If a patient has a build-up of plaque in his or her arteries (often caused by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or smoking), it impairs the blood flow, which can result in shortness of breath or even a heart attack. A stent is a small wire mesh tube that is inserted into the artery and expanded, pushing the artery open and allowing normal blood flow.

Because the operation is relatively simple and does not involve opening the chest (the stent is often inserted in the leg and then guided into the area of the heart), it has become a common procedure. But the presence of the wire mesh inside the artery can cause increased risk of blood clots, which could lead to a stroke. Thus the procedure is not for everyone, and there are risks associated with doing it unnecessarily.

One recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that among patients who had stents implanted as elective surgery, only half of the operations were medically appropriate. The rest of the procedures were deemed either inappropriate or uncertain. The studies lead author said that at some hospitals, as many as 1 in 5 of the procedures were performed without enough evidence to justify them.

Unnecessary operations like these are a form of medical malpractice. Anyone who has been harmed by an unnecessary stent implantation (such as suffering a stroke or other complications from the surgery) should consult with a medical malpractice attorney to discuss their rights and options.