Stents are mesh tubes that hold blocked arteries open in order to improve blood flow. Stents are typically recommended for patients whose cardiac arteries are more than 50% or 70% blocked (U.S. guidelines state that an artery should be 50% blocked with cholesterol plaque before the disease is considered significant and symptoms might not be apparent until there is 70% blockage). Although rare, stents can cause bleeding, stroke, or heart attack. Because life-threatening blood clots may result from implanted stents, patients with stents must take blood-thinning drugs that have their own significant risks.
Cardiologists and the hospitals where they perform stent procedures have made millions upon millions of dollars as a result of so many patients being implanted with stents. With so much money to be made, fraud and other wrongdoing by cardiologists and hospitals that look the other way have resulted in claims throughout the United States regarding stent procedures that were unnecessary or inappropriately performed on patients. One of the major concerns regarding cardiac stents is that they may be implanted in patients who do not need them or otherwise do not meet the criteria for stents, including cardiologists allegedly fudging the level of blockage to make it appear that the arterial blockages met the criteria for stent placement.
One of the largest unnecessary stent cases in the United States involved a well-known cardiologist in Maryland and the local hospital where he had performed hundreds of stent procedures that were subsequently reviewed by medical experts in 2009 and determined to have been improper stent procedures (a U.S. Senate Finance Committee report issued in December 2010 found that the Maryland cardiologist may have implanted 585 stents which were medically unnecessary between 2007 and 2009, for which Medicare paid $3.8 million of the $6.6 million charged for those procedures). The cardiologist reportedly performed 30 stent procedures in a single day in 2008 (a sales representative for the stent manufacturer reportedly paid $2,159 to buy a whole, slow-roasted pig and other items for a barbecue at the cardiologist’s home after the implantation of the manufacturer’s 30 stents that day). The cardiologist was terminated from his relationship with the hospital, his cardiology practice folded, the cardiologist lost his license to practice medicine in Maryland, and the hospital where the stents were implanted was recently sold to a large hospital organization in Maryland. Many of the former cardiologist’s former patients have brought medical malpractice and other claims against the former cardiologist, his former practice, and the hospital, alleging that their stent procedures were unnecessary and that they suffered injuries and losses as a result.
The fallout from the unnecessary stent procedures recently expanded in Maryland when other health care providers were sued for medical malpractice for their alleged involvement with stent procedures. Medical malpractice claims for 39 patients were filed against 8 more Maryland physicians during October, 2012, alleging that they overstated the patients’ medical conditions to justify the use of stents. Most of the eight physicians are accused of implanting unnecessary stents while others are alleged to have performed medical procedures to justify unnecessary stents. Some of the Maryland physicians are also named as defendants in other medical malpractice claims involving stents.
In one particular Maryland case, three different physicians allegedly implanted stents in one woman on four separate occasions beginning in February 2006.
Maryland responded to the problem of unnecessary medical procedures by passing a law, effective October 1, 2011, that requires hospitals to randomly review for appropriateness all medical procedures.
Medicare paid approximately $25.7 billion for stent procedures for the six-year period ending in 2009. There are about 600,000 angioplasty procedures (the procedure used to open narrow or blocked coronary arteries to restore blood flow to the heart muscle) performed in the United States each year.
A study that looked at 500,154 procedures performed at 1,091 hospitals in the U.S. showed that 70% of them were on patients with symptoms of a heart attack. The remainder of the procedures were on stable patients for which 50% were judged to be appropriate, 38% were uncertain as to appropriateness, and 12% were found to be inappropriate. Other studies have shown that stents are not any better than drugs in the treatment of patients with chronic but stable chest pain.
If you or a loved one may have received an unnecessary stent, you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney in Maryland or your state to determine if you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages.
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