Maryland Malpractice Lawsuit Underway Over Unnecessary Heart Stents

Trial is underway in Maryland state court involving a medical malpractice lawsuit against St. Joseph Medical Center and former cardiologist Mark Midei, who lost his medical license after allegedly implanting unnecessary coronary heart stents.  

The case involves a complaint filed by Glenn Weinberg, who is one of several hundred former patients of Midei who allege that they received a heart stent that was not needed. Weinberg claims that the unnecessary procedure caused him to suffer fears over the state of his health and scale back his business, costing him millions.

Attorneys for Midei say that the former cardiologist diagnosed that Weinberg had suffered a small heart attack despite appearing outwardly healthy. Midei took the stand this week, claiming that his analysis of Weinberg’s health was accurate and maintaining that his actions probably saved Weinberg’s life.

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Weinberg’s complaint came after St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland sent letters to more than 600 former Midei patients, notifying them that a subsequent review of their medical records found that they may have been implanted with a coronary heart stent that was not needed. In many cases, Midei told patients that they were suffering severe coronary blockages that required the placement of a stent, when in reality, they had only minor blockages that did not justify the treatment.

Midei was stripped of his medical license in July 2011, after a federal investigation determined he had been lying to patients, telling them that they had extensive heart blockages that needed to be alleviated by coronary stent implants.

Stent procedures are designed to prop open arteries that are significantly blocked, and can cost $10,000 or more. Typically it is necessary for there to be at least a 70% artery blockage for a stent implant to be considered necessary, and many patients who have received these letters were originally told that they had blockages over that amount. However, after a subsequent review of records from the procedure, many of the patients were found to have blockages that were well under 50%, which is generally considered “insignificant.” Some patients who received stents had blockages as low as 10%.

The discovery of the problems with unnecessary heart stents by Dr. Midei was first uncovered by a U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) investigation into Medicare fraud and claims of kickbacks between the hospital and the MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates (MACVA), of which Midei was a member at one time. He was kicked out of his position at the hospital shortly after the investigation got underway.

Settlement agreements have already been reached in nearly 250 lawsuits against St. Joseph and Midei, but dozens of cases remain unresolved. As a result of the unnecessary procedures, St. Joseph also reached a $22 million settlement with the DOJ in 2010.

Stent Misuse Concerns Rising

The trial comes just days after a report was issued about the overuse of coronary stents nationwide, which have been linked to serious and fatal complications in many cases.

In 2012 alone, the FDA reports that at least 773 people died in cases linked to cardiac stents, representing a 71% increase since 2008. The agency’s adverse event reporting system also logged 4,135 non-fatal stent injuries in the same year, a 33% increase over 2008. These numbers are even more troubling when considering that it is widely acknowledged that adverse events reported to the FDA only represent about 1% to 10% of all problems associated with medical devices or prescription medications.

In a recent report by Bloomberg News, experts indicated that only about half of the 700,000 coronary heart stent operations each year involve the intended use for acute cases, such as restoring blood flow after a heart attack. In these cases, experts agree that they are beneficial, but many procedures each year are categorized as elective, and some estimates suggest that two-thirds of those, or more than 200,000 operations every year, are unnecessary.

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