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Questions raised about increase in PA spinal fusion surgery

The abundance of medical treatments and prescriptions available to treat a wide variety of medical ailments are more advanced than ever before. While this is generally a positive thing, it does leave room for the potential of abusing or over-prescribing a type of medicine or treatment plan. Recently, questions were raised by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when certain medical statistics came to light that raised red-flags about the treatment prescribed by physicians. Patients have also come forward to discuss their personal experiences with a type of back treatment called spinal fusion surgery.

Initially, eye-brows were raised when it was made known that Pennsylvania patients receiving spinal fusion surgery were up nearly 100% in a 10-year span from 2004-2014. And of those patients, it seemed a certain demographic of 65 and older was targeted to receive the surgery because their frequency of spinal fusion doubled. The goal of the spinal fusion surgery is to ease back pain. While most surgeries are a success, they are expensive, complicated and can go terribly wrong.

It was released that many Pennsylvania hospitals and related third-parties were allotted bonuses if they performed or referred a certain amount of spinal fusion surgeries. This situation can leave patients vulnerable to abuse, especially by recommending a certain surgery or treatment plan that is risky or that may not have a desired result. UPMC Presbyterian was the fusion center of the state, billing nearly $323 million, some of which was no doubt reimbursed by insurance. Medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed in the state that allege that back surgeries performed in the area were 'completely unnecessary.'

For many, spinal cord fusion surgery is the best treatment option available. For others, the surgery may have been over-recommended and possibly for selfish or greedy reasons. Some Pennsylvania residents may not have been the appropriate recipients of such a surgery. While somewhat inconclusive, the new spinal fusion statistics are a good reminder to always get a second opinion or to not be afraid to question medical decisions that have already been made.

Source: newsinteractive.post-gazette.com, "Economic of Spinal fusion: Back surgery complicated, expensive and increasing," Rich Lord, Nov. 21, 2016

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