This is a genuinely startling and thought-provoking read. If you’re considering surgery, read this first.

surgerySurgery is big business. There are 250 million major surgical procedures performed worldwide each year – one for every 25 people, according to this book by Australian orthopaedic surgeon Ian Harris.

And it turns out a surprising number of those surgeries serve little purpose. Prof Harris, now the director of a medical research unit, has turned his focus to looking at what the evidence really says about his profession.

He has found that a whole list of routine surgeries – including knee arthroscopies, back fusion, appendix removal, coronary stenting, tendon ruptures, factures – often have little scientific support or have been found to perform no better than non-surgical alternatives, and sometimes even worse.

He looks at a whole range of problems: Surgery doesn’t have to go through the testing procedure that drugs do; patients are usually keen to try anything that might help; “success” isn’t the same thing for surgeon and for patient; and surgeons are all but forced to operate if it’s a standard and expected procedure in the face of being accused of negligence if they don’t.

It turns out most people will get better or improve anyway, regardless – surgery or placebo, it’s the fact they’re getting treatment that matters, rather than the specifics of what that treatment is.

This review first appeared in the Herald Sun’s Weekend magazine. The book was published in March 2016

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