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Study Shows Many Knee Surgeries Are Unnecessary: Is Medical Malpractice Involved?

Recent studies show that arthroscopic knee surgery - one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures, with 700,000 such procedures performed each year at an estimated cost of $4 billion - may, in fact, be unnecessary. This new information that knee replacements may be unnecessary and unhelpful for patients begs the question: why are so many knee replacements performed and could medical malpractice be involved?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, a Finnish study looking at a subset of meniscus tears added to previous studies suggesting that, for many patients, non-surgical options like physical therapy may be as helpful as knee surgery. The previous research includes a groundbreaking 2002 Texas study which showed that patients receiving arthroscopy for knee osteoarthritis fared no better than those who received sham surgery, and a 2008 Canadian study which found that patients who underwent surgery for knee arthritis did no better than those who received physical therapy and medication. Since these studies, many surgeons have stopped operating on patients whose sole source of knee pain is arthritis.

Arthroscopic knee surgery involves several small incisions in the knee through which the surgeon inserts an arthroscope, which allows doctors to see inside the knee, and medical tools used to trim torn meniscus and smooth the edges of the meniscus that remain. Like all surgeries, meniscal knee surgery comes with risks and potential complications.

According to the New York Times, there is "consensus that [the surgery] should be performed in some circumstances, especially for younger patients and for tears from acute sports injuries. But about 80 percent of tears develop from wear and aging, and some researchers believe surgery in those cases should be significantly limited."

"Those who do research have been gradually showing that this popular operation is not of very much value," said Dr. David Felson, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University. This study "provides information beautifully about whether the surgery that the orthopedist thinks he or she is doing is accomplishing anything. I think often the answer is no."

Some experts speculate that unnecessary knee surgeries are spurred on by financial incentives for doctors and hospitals, as well as pressure from referring doctors to operate on the patients that they send to the knee surgeon. In other words, as Dr. Fine said, "if a primary care doctor keeps sending me patients who are complaining of knee pain and I keep not operating on them, then the primary care doctor is going to stop sending me patients."

Financial concerns and continued referrals hardly seem like appropriate reasons to be sending patients into the operating room, however, especially since any surgery comes with significant certain risks of infection and anesthesiological complications.

When doctors let financial decisions, referral pressures, and their own greed impact medical decisions and treatment, patients may be the victims of medical malpractice. For instance, as we reported, seven doctors and executives at Chicago's Sacred Heart Hospital were recently charged in a health scandal that includes allegations of unnecessary medical procedures, such as tracheotomies. According to the Chicago Tribune, one doctor allegedly went so far as to overdose patients with sedatives in order to necessitate tracheotomies and lengthy hospital stays and then billed Medicare for the treatment.

At Steinberg, Goodman & Kalish, our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers represent the victims of medical malpractice, whether a misdiagnosis, surgical error, or unnecessary medical treatment. We are dedicated to protecting injured victims and their families, and have obtained record setting and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of our injured clients.

If you suspect that you or a loved one were the victim of medical malpractice, contact the Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Steinberg, Goodman & Kalish to schedule a free consultation to discuss a possible medical malpractice claim.


Steinberg Goodman & Kalish  ( is dedicated to protecting victims and their families.  We handle medical malpractice, product liability, personal injury, wrongful death, auto accidents, professional negligence, birth trauma, and railroad law matters. Contact us at (800) 784-0150 or (312) 782-1386.

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