In the summer of 2010, a troubling letter reached the chief ethics officer of the hospital giant HCA, written by a former nurse at one of the company’s hospitals in Florida. In a follow-up interview, the nurse said a doctor at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce, had been performing heart procedures on patients who did not need them, putting their lives at risk.Multiply this by thousands of hospitals and you get some start on the question of why American health care costs so much. The only long-term answer is to stop paying doctors by the procedure and turn them into salaried employees. As long as the corruption of money is there, people will be corrupted by it.
“It bothered me,” the nurse, C. T. Tomlinson, said in a telephone interview. “I’m a registered nurse. I care about my patients.” In less than two months, an internal investigation by HCA concluded the nurse was right.
“The allegations related to unnecessary procedures being performed in the cath lab are substantiated,” according to a confidential memo written by a company ethics officer, Stephen Johnson, and reviewed by The New York Times. Mr. Tomlinson’s contract was not renewed, a move that Mr. Johnson said in the memo was in retaliation for his complaints. But the nurse’s complaint was far from the only evidence that unnecessary — even dangerous — procedures were taking place at some HCA hospitals, driving up costs and increasing profits. . . .
Questions about the necessity of medical procedures — especially in the realm of cardiology — are not uncommon. None of the internal documents reviewed calculate just how many such procedures there were or how many patients might have died or been injured as a result. But the documents suggest that the problems at HCA went beyond a rogue doctor or two.
At Lawnwood, where an invasive diagnostic test known as a cardiac catheterization is performed, about half the procedures, or 1,200, were determined to have been done on patients without significant heart disease, according to a confidential 2010 review.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Unnecessary Heart Surgery
The problem with the way most American health care is set up is that doctors have every incentive to perform expensive procedures whether they are necessary or not. In some cases this has amounted to fraud: