New analysis of data revealed that four-fifths of back operations in Germany were unnecessary, said Günther Leiner, the organiser of the annual European health forum, which takes place next month in Gastein, Austria.
Speaking at a Brussels press club event ahead of the forum, Leiner also cited OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) data which showed a huge discrepancy between the number of hip operations per 100,000 people taking place in Germany (289), Austria (243) and Poland (39).
Surgeons operating just to make ends meet?
He said that such a discrepancy could not be explained by surgical considerations alone, and was evidence that an unnecessary number of operations was being carried out, probably because it made better financial sense to do so for doctors and hospitals.
Leiner cited other statistics gathered by Salzburg Medical University which claimed that 36% of prescription drugs handed to patients with an average age of 82 were unnecessary, and one third of all drugs handed out to these people were inappropriate prescriptions.
Around seven million people suffer globally each year from surgery-related complications, according to World Health Organisation data, Leiner said, adding that half of these operations were unnecessary in the first place.
Innovation required to cut healthcare costs
Leiner said that the Bad Gastein conference would discuss ways to deal with the problems of over-extended budgets and unnecessary surgery and drug prescriptions through innovation, personalised medicine and eHealth.
Paola Testori-Coggi, the Commission's director-general for health and consumer affairs, told the meeting that unnecessary or poor surgical outcomes were part of the general litany of problems affecting Europe's ageing population, and was the reason why the Commission had launched an innovation partnership on active and healthy ageing.
Testori-Coggi said that a great deal more funding for innovation in the health sector would be available under the EU's new 'Horizon 2020' research programme, which will take effect from 2014.
Meanwhile, MEP and former Slovenian Prime Minister Alojz Peterle called for greater European coordination within the healthcare sector and more social innovation to confront the issue of unnecessary surgery and active ageing.
Peterle said he would be giving a presentation at the Bad Gastein conference on the need for Europe to develop "social innovations" in health care rather than simply medical remedies.
He explained that such "social innovation" involved attempts to get society – and especially older people – to modify their behaviour in ways that increased their active lives. Examples include communities in South America, where the elderly are encouraged to visit each other regularly, he said.