More than 7 million Americans in the last ten years have had a cardiac stent used to open up a blocked or partially blocked artery. The costs of this procedure are staggering, with estimates putting the price tag at over $110 billion. When used in patients that have had a heart attack and the stent opens up the artery to allow blood flow, there is little controversy over the benefits. Each year, about 350,000 - or about half - of all stents placed are for this reason or other "acute cases."
However, there are other cases when a stent is placed in as an elective surgery. In other words, the stent is placed when someone has had a heart attack or is in dire need of the procedure. According to court documents, interviews with patients and their families, cardiologists and various medical studies, the placement of cardiac stents can cause injury and death in some cases when used as an elective surgery. In addition, there are reports of fraud and overuse.
One professor at Chapel Hill's University of North Carolina says it's a matter of economics. Cardiologists make four times as much money to put a stent in a patient as they do to talk to that patient about the possible risks.
There are federal cases in the courts from Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana that all deal with possible abuse of cardiac stents. A Cleveland Clinic physician has seen federal agents seize his assets after an investigation in April. That clinic is rated as the best heart center in the country.
Another cardiologist in New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine says that, by his estimates, over 200,000 stents are unnecessarily placed each year. That's about 33 percent of all stents procedures each year. With more than 7 million Americans receiving stents in the last decade, that means that over 1 million Americans had the procedure when they didn't need it. These types of doctor errors can lead to substantial civil litigation, which is what many states are starting to see in their civil court systems.