Buyer Beware, Patient Beware

From time to time we forget that medicine is a business and we patients are its customers.  I can assure you that doctors and hospitals are clear on this concept.  I don’t mean to suggest that all doctors see you as a profit center; they don’t.  There are still many caring physicians who went to medical school to help people but economic pressures are pushing even these caring doctors to be more efficient and to generate more income to cover their ever increasing costs of doing business.

For the last couple of years the Wall Street Journal has been looking at the economics of the practice of medicine and has been publishing its findings from time to time.  Today was another of those times.  If the public ever needed a reminder that they need to ask questions and to be careful consumers of medical services, this is just such a reminder.

Here is a link to today’s story: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324263404578615971483271856.html  The story reports on a Department of Justice investigation into the conduct of a California neurosurgeon and whether he owned part of a company that supplied his hospital with the hardware he placed during spinal surgeries.  The investigation of the California neurosurgeon is part of a broader investigation into Physician Owned Distributorships (“PODS”).  PODS buy medical devices from manufacturers and then sell them to hospitals at a substantial mark up.  The allegation is that the California neurosurgeon had an ownership interest in a POD that sold spinal equipment to his hospital, that he directed the hospital to buy equipment for his surgeries from the POD, that he performed unnecessary surgeries and installed unnecessary equipment in order to boost the revenue he received as part owner of the POD.  According to the investigators, his cut of the revenue of his POD averaged $12,000 a month.

Under our current “fee for service” model of providing medical care, doctors and hospitals don’t make any money unless you are sick and they are treating you.  Surgeons don’t make any money telling you that you don’t need surgery.  While some in the medical community complain about having to practice “defensive medicine”, they make money ordering tests and interpreting the results.

Just because you are walking into a doctor’s office, don’t leave behind your natural caution.  Just because a doctor tells you something doesn’t mean that it must be true.  Ask questions.  Get second opinions.   It is much, much better to avoid being the victim of malpractice than it is to try to sue after the fact.  If you have been a victim despite your best efforts, give me a call.

Posted in Doctors, Health Care Costs, Hospitals, Lawsuits, Medical Costs, medical ethics, PODS | Tagged , |