Finnish study: Orthopedic surgery no better than placebo surgery?

Sombit Mishra

A study by Finnish researchers suggests that partial meniscectomy, a minimally invasive procedure to trim parts of the meniscus after a tear, may not have any material benefit vs. the alternative of foregoing surgery.  The study was small--146 patients total--but the setup of the study is what makes the findings interesting.  A control group received a fake simulated surgery, where doctors removed no cartilage but pressed instruments firmly against the outer portion of the knee.  While those who received real surgery experienced some measurable short-term relief, the results 12 months out were roughly the same for the control vs. experimental group. 

Partial meniscectomies cost $3-6K per patient and the study's authors estimate that these surgeries account for roughly $4 Billion in healthcare spending/year.  While further research is necessary, the study's findings underscore the prevailing problem in healthcare--too many procedures, too few outcomes.  This is one more example of a surgery that needs to be put under the microscope by consumers, providers, and payers.