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Overuse of Cardiac Stents Linked to Patient Deaths

About a third of all cardiac stents implanted in patients are unnecessary, says cardiologist David Brown of Stony Brook University School of Medicine. That amounts to more than 200,000 stents a year, and controversy surrounding this practice has spurred nationwide litigation and a federal investigation into several cases involving illegal kickbacks and allegations of cardiac stent malpractice.

Overuse of cardiac stents leads to patient deaths

Cardiac stents are big business for hospitals and their staff, with the average private insurance reimbursement for a procedure totaling $25,000. By placing a stent inside an artery, surgeons can restore blood flow that has been compromised in heart attack patients, or give help to patients at risk for future heart attack. But when misused or overused in patients, cardiac stents can prove fatal, as they did for former postal service worker Bruce Peterson.

After suffering chest pain, Peterson paid a visit to cardiologist Dr. Samuel DeMaio, who inserted 21 stents in his patient’s chest over a period of eight months, including five mesh tubes in a single artery.  Peterson developed several blood clots and blockages due to his weakened heart, which ultimately caused his untimely demise, argues his widow Shirlee Peterson. She later sued DeMaio for cardiac stent malpractice – an increasingly common charge in a health care industry that seems to be driven by the quantity of procedures, rather than the quality of patient care.

Nortin Hadler, a UNC Chapel Hill professor of medicine told Bloomberg News, “Stenting belongs to one of the bleakest chapters in the history of Western medicine. Cardiologists “are marching on” because “the interventional cardiology industry has a cash flow comparable to the GDP of many countries” and doesn’t want to sacrifice the revenue, he said.

Cardiac stent problems cost $2.4 billion a year

The U.S. health care system spends an estimated $2.4 billion a year caring for patients that received unnecessary cardiac stents, says Dr. Sanjay Kaul, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Patients face a much greater risk for complications like coronary scar tissue, blood clots and uncontrolled bleeding from anticoagulant medications – all of which can be life-threatening.  Jim Simecek told Bloomberg that he is on blood-thinning medicine for the rest of his life to prevent clots in the cardiac stents he received from a Cleveland doctor who is currently the subject of a federal probe.

Sixty-four year old Monica Crabtree’s cardiac stent problems caused a torn artery, which resulted in an infection and her death, according to her husband. He also pursued legal action after it was determined by another cardiologist that Monica’s stent was completely needless. The surviving spouse recovered $240,000 in a malpractice settlement brought against the surgeon.

FDA reports hundreds of deaths attributed to cardiac stents

Some 773 patient deaths linked with cardiac stents were logged with the FDA last year, according to Bloomberg. Though this figure has jumped more than 70 percent since 2008, with recent media coverage on cardiac stent overuse and ongoing federal investigations, cardiologists may be using fewer stents and only on suitable patients.

John Harold, president of the American College of Cardiology said the doctors who have been charged with cardiac stent malpractice or fraud are essentially “outliers” in their community, and that these surgeons fail to represent the “overwhelming majority.”