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Concerns Raised Over the Validity of Spine Fusion Surgery

In Pennsylvania, if a doctor or other medical care professional is negligent in the care that is given, they may be liable for medical malpractice. In some situations, a misdiagnosis or mistake in the operating room can be costly for the patient, both physically and financially.

But what is considered negligent medical care? What constitutes a negligent error in treatment? What if a doctor is suggesting a risky operation that is unnecessary and dangerous when less invasive treatments are available?

In the past several years, fusion surgery has become the focus of some medical professionals who believe the surgery is being used more often than it should be used. Several patients who have undergone the surgery are now worse off than before; one patient was paralyzed and another reported a reliance on pain killers.

Fusion surgery is sometimes recommended when a patient is suffering from serious back pains. The surgery fuses together vertebrae in the spine in order to limit spine movement, thereby decreasing the amount of pain a person experiences.

Some research has shown that fusion surgery does not work. In one case, a woman endured three fusion surgeries, only to end up paralyzed and unable to work. She filed a lawsuit against the doctor but a jury determined no negligence on the doctor's part. As a result she is left physically scarred and financially stressed after being ordered to pay attorneys fees for the doctor she sued.

Some studies show that patients with back pain can achieve the same results from physical therapy; physical therapy is a safer option when compared with fusion therapy. It is still disputed whether fusion therapy is even necessary.

So why are doctors still recommending the surgery? Fusion surgeries generate billions of dollars nationwide. Are doctors recommending the surgery in order to financially benefit, even if physical therapy is a viable alternative? Could that be considered a negligent diagnosis if the doctor knows it's unnecessary and dangerous?

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek online, "Doctors Getting Rich With Fusion Surgery Debunked by Studies," Peter Waldman and David Armstrong, 05 January 2011

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