Harsh Spotlight Falls On Surgical Centers

Hundreds of thousands of people go to surgical centers instead of hospitals for routine procedures, complex surgeries, and everything in between. These places are very convenient, but are they safe?

Not according to a recent survey. Since 2013, over 250 people have died following operations at one of the nation’s 5,000-plus surgical centers. Some of these victims have been as young as two years old. Furthermore, many have died after routine operations, such as tonsillectomies or colonoscopies. Medicare requires these facilities to designate nearby hospitals as emergency treatment facilities. But this “nearby hospital” could be fifteen or twenty minutes away, especially if the surgical facility is in a rural area.

Even worse, many of these facilities cut back on staff training or emergency lifesaving equipment in order to reduce costs. In one incident, a man lost over a quarter of his blood and had considerable difficulty breathing, according to court documents. An Atlanta surgeon who provided expert testimony in the medical malpractice case was of the opinion that the man would not have died “had [he] been observed in a hospital overnight.” The parties later settled that lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

Ambulatory Surgery Center Association CEO Bill Prentice insisted that surgery centers are safe and that the majority of these victims “have something unimaginable happen to them that has nothing to do with the care that’s being provided.”

A Brief History of Surgery Centers

The first such facility opened in 1970. It was located in Phoenix “between neighborhood shops and a Baptist church.” Founders Wallace Reed and John Ford touted the facility as a lower-cost alternative for both insurance companies and patients.

In 1982, Medicare put its stamp of approval on these facilities, and business picked up significantly. Eleven years later, Congress relaxed the rules even further. Today, surgical centers collect some $4.1 billion from Medicare alone.

Yet safety concerns cast a large shadow over this booming business. In 2007, a government report concluded that many facilities should not perform many procedures since they “have neither patient safety standards consistent with those in place for hospitals, nor are they required to have the trained staff and equipment needed to provide the breadth of intensity of care.”

The Push for Profits and Surgical Mistakes

A quest to maximize revenues and minimize costs has significant consequences. Over 4,000 people a year die from entirely preventable surgical errors, and thousands more are seriously injured. Some common surgical mistakes include:

  • Foreign Objects: An alarming number of patients leave operating tables with scalpels, clamps, pads, gauze, and other such items inside their bodies. A simple object checklist would entirely prevent these incidents.
  • Wrong Patient: In busy and short-staffed emergency rooms, a basic room number error will cause tragic results. Typically, the patient is fully anesthetized by the time the medical staff arrives, so no one can prevent such events.
  • Anesthesia Errors: These mistakes are among the most common and most serious. If the patient gets too much anesthesia, the lack of oxygen could shut down the brain. Just a bit too little, and the patient could wake up during the procedure and experience nightmarish pain. Other patients have allergic reactions to certain medicines.
  • Nerve Damage: Even routine surgeries are delicate procedures, and most doctors are very delicate workers. But some are not. A slight slip can cause permanent and painful injuries.

Damages in medical malpractice cases include compensation for both economic losses, such as necessary revision surgery, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Moreover, because of the special relationship between doctors and patients, many juries award substantial punitive damages in these cases.

Medical Misdiagnosis Issues

The quest for profits also extends to doctors’ offices and affects medical diagnosis. Once again to maximize profits, many clinics book more patients in a day than a doctor can comfortably see. As a result, doctors listen to patients go over their symptoms for about eighteen seconds before interrupting and redirecting them.

In such a short time span, it’s impossible to collect any meaningful information. This lack of data often leads to misdiagnosis in cases like:

  • Cancer: If the patient does not fit the profile in terms of age, lifestyle, and other risk factors, many doctors will not even consider a serious disease like cancer. As a result the misdiagnosis rate may be as high as 40 percent for some rare cancers.
  • Heart Attack: Many individuals, especially women, do not experience severe chest pain when they have cardiac episodes. So, once again, busy doctors immediately assume that the patient must have another condition.
  • Stroke: Thousands of young people suffer strokes every year, yet doctors generally assume that only older people have strokes. So, younger people are diagnosed with migraine headaches, excessive vertigo, or even alcohol intoxication.

Further complicating matters, many doctors do not order a full range of diagnostic tests. They are afraid that the insurance company will not pay for them and the clinic will be stuck with the bill. So, they go with their “guts,” a method that’s often right but many times wrong.

Medicine is too important to put profits before people. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We handle these kinds of tort cases on a nationwide basis.