Bend's High Rate of Back Surgery Persists

Surgeons don't want to admit they perform too many, but that's about all it can be

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June 18, 2009 -- Oregon has long been a darling of those who look at health costs. In most measures, the state, including Central Oregon, shows remarkable restraint, turning in some of the lowest costs in the nation.

Against that backdrop, one number sticks out: the rate of back surgeries in Bend.

For more than a decade, this area has had one of the highest rates of back surgery in the country. According to the latest data, from 2005, we have the second highest rate in the nation. Only Casper, Wyo., does more.

In Bend, these numbers show that nearly 10 out of every 1,000 Medicare enrollees receive back surgery. Nationally, that number is four out of every 1,000.

Spine surgeons here, it seems, do more than twice as many back surgeries as the national average.

“What kills me is that no one has called this out,” said Mike Bonetto, board chairman at HealthMatters of Central Oregon, a local nonprofit that works for health care reform. “I think it’s important for the public to understand what these utilization rates are. You should darn well know that you’re twice as likely to get surgery here than anywhere else.”

In 2008, St. Charles Bend did more than 1,400 spinal procedures, according to the hospital.

The high rate of surgery raises two important questions: Why do more surgeries happen here? And are patients better off for it? Unfortunately, the answers remain elusive.

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