Is your doctor in cahoots with the hospital?

I got a call from a doctor about a patient we've seen in past.

"I've got Tricia in the office. She's been having some kind of chest and abdominal pain. I think it's esophageal reflux, but just to be safe I'm sending her to the hospital."

I advised this physician that, given Tricia's low heart scan score, she was unlikely to be having a coronary "event" like heart attack or unstable symptoms. It wasn't impossible, but just highly unlikely.

As the patient was without symptoms at the moment and had driven herself to his office, I offered to perform a stress test immediately. (Though stress tests are of limited usefulness in people without symptoms, they can be useful provocative maneuvers in people with symptoms of uncertain significance.)

The doctor declined. Tricia was, after all, in his office and he was responsible for any decisions despite any objections I voiced. Well, Tricia was directed by her doctor to go to a local hospital, though one with an especially notorious reputation for putting virtually anyone they can get their hands on through as many procedures as possible.

As you might guess, this doctor was closely associated with this hospital. He and his colleagues obtain incentives (or are penalized) if they do not generate revenue-producing procedures for the hospital.

So, guess what? Tricia ended up with several procedures, all of which yielded nothing--except $30,000 in revenues from Tricia's insurance company.

I harp on this deplorable state of affairs because it is utterly, painfully, and shamefully TRUE. Just look at the hospital and you'd better brace yourself for a series of tests that could cost you the equivalent of a nice 3 bedroom home. If they were truly necessary after the failure of preventive and other simple efforts, fine. But, all too often, they are driven by profit motives.

Could I have stopped this somehow from occurring? After all, Tricia was reasonably aware of the way we do things around here. I fear that even this failed to serve Tricia well. But I remain hopeful that, as we build broader awareness of these issues, that more and more people and physicians will stand up and refuse to tolerate the status quo.