You Are Being Operated On, Do You Know Where Your Surgeon Is?

A recent story about a Syracuse, New York orthopedic surgeon casts light on a practice that will likely come as a shock to most patients.  The surgeon is accused of botching a hip replacement in which his patient allegedly suffered a fractured femur and removing too much bone.  During the trial it was revealed that the surgeon performed as many as 14 surgeries a day.  He would do what he contended was the most critical part of a surgery and then leave the patient in the hands of an assistant to conclude the surgery while he went to another operating room.  In the other operating room, he would again perform what he contended was the most critical part before moving on again and again and again.  In this way, the surgeon could earn as much as $56,000 in a day of surgery.

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The jury was not amused  and unanimously awarded the patient, who is in constant pain and must now use a cane, $2 Million.  The award was based on $1.25 Million for past pain and suffering, $250,000 for future pain and suffering and $500.000 to the patient’s husband for past and future loss of services caused by the wife’s injury.  The patient is now 63.  She was 57 at the time of the hip replacement surgery.

As is almost always the case in these situations, the surgeon is appealing the jury’s verdict on the usual grounds:  it is too large; it was the result of passion and prejudice; the patient’s attorney should not have brought up the number of surgeries the doctor did in a day.

All of that is beside the point of our discussion.  How many patients are adequately informed that the surgeon they have chosen to perform their surgery is only going to do a part of it and leave the rest to someone else while he or she goes off to another patient?  How many patients who were clearly informed of this would agree to it?  I am pretty sure that every one of this surgeon’s patients has a disclosure somewhere in the many consents which precede such surgeries stating that other surgeons may perform part of the surgery.  If asked, I am pretty sure the primary surgeon would tell is patients that this is a minor thing and not to be worried about it as he or she will be there for all the important parts.

The bottom line, however, is that your surgeon will not be there for the entire surgery.  It will be in his or her discretion what is important and when to leave.  If an emergency occurs after the primary surgeon has left, he or she may not be able to return to deal with it depending on the status of the next surgery they are doing.  They may not be able to interrupt it to leave.

I am in favor of surgeons who do a lot of the procedure you need to have.  They will usually be more efficient and skilled at the procedure than someone who only does the procedure occasionally.  This case points out that there can be too much of a good thing.  Fourteen surgeries a day is too many in my opinion for the surgeon to be giving each patient the attention that patient deserves.

Ask your surgeon whether he or she will be with you throughout your surgery.  Be concerned if the answer is anything other than an unqualified, “Yes.”

Posted in Doctors, Fee for Service, Fraud, Hip Replacement, Informed Consent, joint replacement, medical errors, medical ethics, Medical Malpractice, medical malpractice cases, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, Orthopedics, Surgical Errors, Verdicts |