Washington Post reports on the rise of spinal fusion surgery due to financial incentives.

lumbar fusion

Washington Post reports on the rise of spinal fusion surgery due to financial incentives.

As a chiropractor, we do everything to help someone avoid aggressive interventions such as spinal fusion surgery, which helps some but has a history of harming many who were poor candidates.

When you visit a doctor with horrible pain, you want a solution, and when conservative solutions fail to relieve the pain (they do not solve every disc problem, but relieve most), sometimes surgery may be the best approach to bring long lasting relief. What if your doctors motives are their financial interests instead of yours? Unfortunately, this seems to be a common theme running through our US healthcare economy these days, with for profit hospitals, surgicenters, and even privately owned emergency rooms offering their solutions to your problems.

When the recommended procedure produces harm rather than good, it can be egregious and even mean malpractice, with the patient rather than being helped, becoming the victim, something most people never even think of when they are in pain. This is why it is so important for people to understand why they hurt first, so they can find the best option for them, especially since so many insurance plans now have cost shifted these costs to the patient through the use of high deductibles, no out of network coverage, etc.

Check out this report in the Washington Post

Rise in spinal fusion surgeries may be driven partly by financial incentives, study says

By , Published: November 13

A government study of Medicare billings shows that financial incentives for doctors may be driving some of the rapid rise in spinal fusion surgery.The report, conducted by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, focuses on the “proliferation” of companies that are owned by physicians and sell equipment for spinal fusions — screws, rods and plates. Such equipment costs more than $11,000 per spinal fusion, according to the report.

Six months after a hospital began to purchase spinal devices from a physician-owned distributorship, the number of spinal fusions performed jumped 21 percent on average, more than twice as fast as at other hospitals, according to the report.

“With this report, HHS’s inspector general has produced data that clearly demonstrate a direct correlation between the perverse financial incentives created by physician-owned distributorships and the rise in these highly invasive spinal surgeries,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has tracked the issue. “Given the impact of these surgeries on seniors and their health, the structure of these entities needs to be further scrutinized.”

Doctors who are investors in such companies stand to benefit when more spinal fusions are performed, according to the report, which was released last month after an examination of 1,000 Medicare patient records.

The average hospital performed 62 spinal fusion surgeries per 1,000 surgical patients before beginning to purchase devices from the physician-owned companies; that figure climbed to 75 spinal surgeries per 1,000 surgical patients afterward.

Government health authorities expressed skepticism about the virtue of these physician-owned distributorships as far back as 2006, but they have continued to grow.

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