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Experts say cardiac stents linked to death

In the last ten years, surgeons across the United States implanted cardiac stents in over 7 million people, touting their ability to boost the flow of blood and treat heart disease. However, the families of many of these patients and other advocates have accused such physicians of misusing stents and ultimately contributing to a number of deaths. In fact, recent years have seen large sums awarded to parties who filed wrongful death lawsuits following stent-related fatalities.

Although the deaths caused by excessive stenting are irreversible, some parties have obtained a measure of justice through civil litigation. One doctor paid $10,000 to the family of man who died after reconvening 21 stents over the course of 8 months. Some physicians have also been targeted by the government, including one Ohio doctor whose assets were frozen during a federal investigation into his use of cardiac stents.

Most experts agree that cardiac stents can be valuable tools when deployed following heart attacks, which account for approximately half of all stent procedures each year. The other 350,000 operations are elective surgeries administered to patients with little immediate need for implants, despite increasingly widespread knowledge regarding the severe risks posed by cardiac stents. One cardiologist and stenting critic contends that American patients undergo 200,000 unnecessary stents every year.

Experts blame the overuse of stents on a number of factors, most notably the way they incentivize doctors; cardiac surgeons typically receive around $1,000 for each stent they implant in a patient, compared to $250 for telling patients about the dangers of stents and discussing other treatment options. The Medical Group Management Association reports that interventional cardiologists earned well over twice as much as general physicians.

One professor of medicine asserted that the booming interventional cardiology industry encourages doctors to use stents whenever possible in order to maintain a hefty bankroll. "Stenting belongs to one of the bleakest chapters in the history of Western medicine," he explained.

Bloomberg, "Deaths Linked to Cardiac Stents Rise as Overuse Seen" Peter Waldman, David Armstrong and Sydney P. Freedberg, Sep. 26, 2013

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