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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  • Anthony D

    “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”

    Oh my God!!!! What a real sicko that person is! Hope the judge throws the book at him!!!!!.

    “If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I am not a big fan of lawyers.”

    Maybe only the ones that will defend you as a client!

    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.

    Another sicko no doubt and hope the judge throws the book at him too!

    • Skeptical Scalpel

      It’s interesting that lawyers can argue with each other all morning and then have lunch together.

      • NormRx

        it is not interesting at all. In various mob movies my favorite quote is “it’s not personal, it’s just business.” as the victim receives a bullet to the brain. For the lawyers, as in most professions it all about the money.
        Another of my favorite lawyer quotes is ” my client is innocent until proven broke.

  • Suzi Q 38

    Are these stories true?
    Links, please.

    Not that I doubt you for a minute.

    • Skeptical Scalpel

      That plastic surgeon story was indeed strange. He may be thinking that any publicity is good publicity. I’m not so sure.

  • Aun Muhammad

    I think, a surgeon considering ethics does not go foe unnecessary surgeries. Such cases should be evaluated carefully as it is the matter of human life.

  • Thomas D Guastavino

    If you bought a bushel of apples and accepted the fact that every bushel always has a few that are rotten you have a choice. You can deny yourself apples, throw out the whole bushel or teach yourself how to identify, find, and throw out just the bad ones. Common Sense

    • Disqus_37216b4O

      But how can patients “teach [themselves] how to identify, find, and throw out just the bad ones [doctors]“, when it seems that most everyone in the medical profession is working so hard to hide the rottenness of some of their peers?

      • Thomas D Guastavino

        First, I dont know of anyone in the medical profession who is “working hard to hide the rottenness of their peers”
        Second, in this age of high technology, where the NSA is capable of tracking our texts and Emails, and Doctors can be bribed to purchase unworkable EMR systems so the government can have the abiity to monitor our medical decision making, I find it hard to believe this same technology cant be used to find and weed out the rotten apples in our profession.

        • Skeptical Scalpel

          Thomas, well said. I agree.

        • SarahJ89

          Oh really??? I couldn’t disagree more. I am a victim of medical malpractice. I nearly died. I did not bother to sue because life is way to short for that. I did, however, ask for a meeting with the heads of the various departments involved. The hospital did EVERYTHING it could to block me in this, including trying to dissuade me from having anyone with me in the meeting.

          I came in with a written agenda, which was a good thing because the hospital rep tried to control the meeting as soon as we sat down. The department heads couldn’t have been nicer, acknowledged the many failures that nearly led to my death. One staff member was put on probation and later fired.

          Nonetheless, my records were altered and later records were written in a fashion to cover up for the offending doctor. He practiced in two hospitals and both hospitals colluded in this cover up. Had I wanted to sue–and I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I did not want to do so–there was nothing on the record to support what had actually happened. The one doctor I trusted in this whole mess wrote a discharge summary that covered his inept colleague’s butt, even as he verbally expressed dismay and horror at what had happened. He was actually a really nice guy and I could see where he had pulled his punches. It was pretty obvious the institution for which he worked put pressure on him to play ball.

          Please, please do NOT even attempt to tell me your colleagues–especially the medical institutions–are not engaged in wholesale efforts to cover up for the bad apples in your profession. My experience and that of many other people I’ve met says otherwise. You have your head in the sand if you do not understand this.

          The day doctors (other than those who have chosen the weird profession of Professional Expert Witness) deal with their bad apples is the day I will gladly stand up for them. Until then, sleazy trial lawyers are the only hope patients have of redress for the errors of your few who make most of the mistakes. You bring this upon yourselves with your inaction and denial.

          • Steve Markus

            Hear, hear Sarah J! The medical profession is famous for the old cover-up. You’d be hard pressed to find a doctor who will say anything negative about another MD to a patient, ever.

  • EmilyAnon

    An othopedic surgeon has 261 malpractice suits against him, accused of phantom or unnecessary operations, logging 22 procedures a day. And our justice system asks us to give him the benefit of the doubt because there might be a ‘reasonable’ explanation for all this. Let’s hear the other side of the story. Maybe an 8 minute phantom operation really isn’t fraud. Meanwhile years go by before any resolution and patient casualties continue.

    This is coddling with dangerous consequences. The bar is too low for some people of stature

  • SBornfeld

    Trick question?

  • blancheknott

    “doing your homework…” Not really possible. I graduated from UCI medical school in 1993. Unfortunately, during my first year in medical school, I was hit by a car as I walked in a crosswalk. I had my first reparative spinal surgery during medical school and graduated with my class. During my internship, I had more symptoms which indicated a need for cervical spine surgery. The supervising physicians in my program virtually mandated I have the problems surgically addressed before proceeding to the next year. I interviewed other doctors who had had the same surgery to find a good surgeon. But I was in a Kaiser training program, with Kaiser insurance. None of the docs I spoke with had their spinal surgeries done by a Kaiser physician. One of their neurosurgeons, outside Kaiser, told me I would have to have it done by Kaiser, as it was too expensive for me to undertake without insurance coverage. and although he couldn’t recommend anyone in Kaiser, I should probably not wait any longer [it was a relatively straightforward 2-level cervical fusion]. He literally picked up the phone and made the appointment with a Kaiser neurosurgeon for me. The surgery fell apart postoperatively while I was still in the hospital and I was discharged without any post-op x-rays. A few days later, I had to order my own films, at the hospital where I was a resident. I was immediately admitted for an urgent repair by an orthopedic surgeon and a general surgeon at my own institution, before the displaced grafts could do any more damage to my esophagus. No lawsuit or investigation came of this event, but eight years later when my state board finally investigated my original spine surgeon, it was found he had operated at the wrong site/level on at least one patient a year in those intervening years; including entering someone’s brain to look for a tumor that wasn’t even there! 75 of his cases were pulled for Peer Review, and mine turned out to be comparatively insignificant. His license was revoked, but after less than 5 years probation, he has his active, unrestricted medical license back, yet I still have disabling sequelae, 20 years later. If I, as a physician-in-training, was referred by my supervisors & mentors to an incompetent one, [and in their own medical group!] who wasn’t stopped until he had done this much damage; just how exactly is the General Public supposed to effectively “do their homework”???

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