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Three Stories Of Surgeons That I Find Disturbing

Wed, 09/25/2013 - 9:34am
Skeptical Scalpel

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.

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