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Kentucky Hospital Investigated for Unnecessary Stents

Oct 7, 2013

Since 2011, federal prosecutors have been investigating King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Kentucky, for suspected cases of unnecessary cardiac stent implanting.

The investigation involves stent procedures completed by the heart center’s namesake, cardiologist Richard E. Paulus, Bloomberg News reports. The Department of Justice has been investigating cardiology and stenting since 2006. To date, at least 11 hospitals have settled allegations that they billed public health programs for unnecessary stents. Another Kentucky cardiologist, Sandesh Patil, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to a single charge of Medicaid fraud.

When stents are used to restore blood flow in heart attack patients, few dispute the devices’ benefits, Bloomberg News reports. About half of the 700,000 stents procedures done annually involve acute cases. But many of the remaining cases are elective surgeries in stable patients; these cases are among the ones under fire for being potentially unnecessary and dangerous. Patients with stents live with lifelong risks, including blood clots, bleeding from anti-clotting medicine, and blockages from scar tissue, any of which can be fatal, according to Dr. Sanjay Kaul, a cardiologist and researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

In the state lawsuit, Robert Huron, Paulus’s patient, claims that the doctor gave him multiple unnecessary stents between 2006 and late 2010, according to Bloomberg News. Huron suffers a constant allergic reaction to the stents’ polymers, according to the suit. The allergy causes hives, joint pain and swelling in his throat, Huron said in an interview.

King’s Daughters Medical Center ranked fourth out of 1,768 U.S. regions in terms of number of stent-related procedures per 1,000 Medicare enrollees in 2010, according to Bloomberg News. In 2011, King’s Daughters did 28 percent more stent-related procedures than any other hospital in Kentucky, including major metropolitan medical centers in Louisville and Lexington, state data show. In 2012, after the federal investigation began, the number of the most common stent procedures at King’s Daughters fell 47 percent from 2011, according to Huron’s suit, which was filed in Boyd County Circuit Court in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

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