Americans got over 100,000 unnecessary surgeries during dangerous first year of COVID-19

May 18, 2022

A new analysis from the Lown Institute, a healthcare think tank, reports that the nation’s hospitals performed more than 100,000 unnecessary and potentially harmful procedures on older patients between March and December 2020.

The analysis of Medicare claims data shows that thousands of vulnerable patients were admitted to U.S. hospitals during the height of the pandemic, before COVID-19 vaccines were approved, for procedures that offer little to no clinical benefit or were more likely to harm patients than help them. The analysis of eight unnecessary and potentially harmful procedures is the first to measure rates of overuse at U.S. hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronary stents and back surgeries were among the most-performed unnecessary procedures over this period.

Number of procedures, Mar-Dec 2020, Volume of eight low-value procedures in U.S. hospitals per Medicare claims:

  • Stents for stable coronary disease: 45,176
  • Vertebroplasty for osteoporosis: 16,553
  • Hysterectomy for benign disease: 14,455
  • Spinal fusion for back pain: 13,541
  • Inferior vena cava filter: 9,595
  • Carotid endarterectomy: 3,667
  • Renal stent: 1,891
  • Knee arthroscopy: 1,596

Total unnecessary procedures identified: 106,474

Coronary stents were the most overused by volume of all the procedures. Across the country, approximately one in five met criteria for overuse, including at some of the nation’s most well-regarded hospitals. For example, among the U.S. News top 20 hospitals, all had rates of coronary stent overuse above the national average, and four had rates at least double that: Cleveland Clinic (44%), Houston Methodist Hospital (44%), Mt. Sinai (42%), and Barnes Jewish Hospital (42%).

Lown Institute release

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