3 stories of surgeons that I find disturbing

An orthopedic surgeon from New York reportedly has 261 malpractice suits against him. He has been accused of performing “phantom” and unnecessary operations. In one case, he supposedly performed a knee reconstruction, and the patient died of a pulmonary embolism the same day. A post-mortem examination allegedly showed no evidence of a reconstructed knee.

There is also said to be evidence showing that in one day he was doing as many as 22 cases, some apparently lasting less than 8 minutes. Details can be found in a lengthy story in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I am not a big fan of lawyers. But I have to admit that one lawyer’s questions about what the hospital knew about all this and why the surgeon wasn’t scrutinized sooner are good ones.

Surely the operating room staffs of the two hospitals he worked in must have had a hint that something was wrong. If he said he reconstructed a knee and didn’t really do it, wouldn’t the OR nurses, techs and anesthesiologists have noticed? Were there no quality assurance or risk management policies in place?

And what about the other orthopedists in town or members of his multispecialty group? They must have seen some of his patients who were dissatisfied. How could they not have spoken up?

What about the company providing his malpractice insurance? How do you get to 261 cases? I once sat on a committee of a malpractice insurance company run by a state medical society. We interviewed a surgeon who had about 10 active or closed suits against him.

When we spoke to him, he could not explain why he had so many suits other than that he had a high-volume practice. His record keeping was poor and his communication skills were lacking.

We terminated his policy on the spot. No other company would insure him. Without malpractice insurance, he could not work.

The orthopedist in question has surrendered his New York medical license as of September 2, 2013 but still has a license to practice medicine in Virginia. Another Poughkeepsie Journal article describes his work history since he left Poughkeepsie, a non-medical incident in Virginia and the transfer of assets to his wife’s name. By the way, that might not work since it was probably done after the problems surfaced.

Of note is the fact that he has excellent patient satisfaction scores. Based on 51 responses, he gets 4½ of 5 stars from Healthgrades.

A spine surgeon in Ohio has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 10 counts of performing unnecessary spine surgery, 5 of which involve health care fraud.

He is said to have told some patients that surgery was urgently needed, including that their heads would fall off if they were in an automobile accident “because there was almost nothing attaching the head to the patient’s body.”

A lawyer filed a malpractice suit against the surgeon claiming he did unnecessary operations on over 100 patients.

Although he apparently has no current hospital privileges, he still can operate at a surgical center that he owns.

His Healthgrades scores are a bit more modest at 3 stars.

I realize that only one side of both of these stories has been told. These are allegations. Nothing has been judged in court yet.

Finally, we go from the serious to the silly. A New York City eye surgeon has gone public with an offer to trade his services as rewards for dates with women. He has exacting standards however.

According to the New York Post, he went to three Ivy League schools (Dartmouth, Columbia and Harvard), Emory and has an MBA from NYU.

“He wants a woman with a graduate degree or Ivy League undergraduate degree,” according to the article.

Police have been stationed outside his office to control the hordes of Ivy League women who are queuing up.

These are isolated stories and not representative of all surgeons. But they are disturbing to me.

What do you think?

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.

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